ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — This spring, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve took on its largest restoration project to date. The goal is to plant a whole new habitat to help protect the threatened gopher tortoise species.
“They love a nice sunny hot day and you’ll just see them out and about,” said Brian Schanck, a ranger with Boyd Hill.
Riding around Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, Schanck loves keeping a tally of how many gopher tortoises he can spot. This reptile is a major contributor to everyday life at the park.
“The gopher tortoise are a keystone species that live here in Florida throughout the south,” said Schanck. “Over 350 other species survive in their habitat so they rely on that habitat.”
He is referring specifically to their burrows, which can be found throughout the disturbed uplands habitat section of the park.
“Anything from insects, snakes, rats, you name it,” said Schanck.
Over the years, the gopher tortoise has seen its habitat dwindle across the state.
“A lot of development going on with a lot of people moving here and living here,” said Schanck.
So Boyd Hill, with the help of a grant from the David and Margaret Perry Foundation, decided to use three acres of land, never before open to the public, to expand their habitat.
“For us to have this space and to utilize it was huge for our ecosystem and environment,” said Schanck.
In April, the park planted more than 3,000 new plants. It’s going to take about a year for these seeds to grow into a field of grasses and wildflowers, which is also about how long it may take for Brian’s friends to move their shells across the park into their new home.
“They have like an internal GPS system, they know where to go as far as where their burrows are and they also know what plants they love,” said Schanck.
Eventually, this habitat will also be open to the public, with hiking trails and even a campsite.
“This is something Boyd Hill hasn’t done before, this is really special and unique,” said Schanck.