State wildlife officers have told a developer to stop bulldozing a 30-acre tract of scrub on High Ridge Road until 15 gopher tortoises living on the land are sent to new homes. The developer agreed to the request made by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, which dispatched a biologist to inspect the site on Wednesday morning after neighbors told the agency they had seen two dead gopher tortoises there. The biologist, Tom Stice, walked the property, Cedar Ridge Estates, and examined tortoise dens marked with wooden stakes bearing pink, green and orange ribbons. The state classifies gopher tortoises as a potentially threatened species, or a species of special concern.
Stice said the developer, "Joseph F. Basile, had a city permit to start clearing vegetation from the site, where he plans to build 34 homes, and had not done anything wrong". "There was no foul intent there whatsoever," Stice said. "Three tortoise dens had been bulldozed, but all were inactive burrows that the reptiles had not been using", Stice said. "Basile had followed state rules for clearing tortoise-inhabited areas by surveying the site, marking burrows and indicating which ones were inhabited and which were not", Stice said. Bulldozers are supposed to stay 50 feet away from marked tortoise burrows. After meeting with Stice and game commission Officer Thomas Haworth, Basile agreed to suspend land clearing for three weeks or longer, the time it will take for him and the game commission to arrange for the tortoises to be relocated, Stice said.
Basile, president of Cedar Ridge Development Corp., said he planned to build homes ranging from $99,000 to $148,000 on the site, perched atop a scrubby ridge that is one of the highest points in the county. He said he would never intentionally harm gopher tortoises, which prefer to colonize the type of arid, sandy land he is building on. "They're neat animals," he said. "I was upset my guys had moved as fast as they had" to clear the property.
Developers building on tortoise-inhabited land are required to mark tortoise homes, which can run 3 to 5 feet deep and 15 feet long, to keep bulldozers away from them. They are also required to apply for a permit to relocate the animals and pay for each one to be moved before building over the burrows. When the homes are built, there will be no room left on the Cedar Ridge Estates land for tortoises to inhabit, so they will probably be sent to another scrub area outside the county, Haworth said.
Jane Forrester, a High Ridge Road resident whose home is adjacent to Basile's land, said she called the game commission because she was worried bulldozers might harm the tortoises. She said she saw two dead tortoises on the site but said wildlife officers recovered only one. Basile said the officers who examined that tortoise could not link its death to the land-clearing operation.
Copyright Sun-Sentinel Co. Apr 27, 1995
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