3,986 acres of biologically diverse habitat along Georgia’s Altamaha River are now a safe haven for some of the state’s most notable and imperiled species:, including the harmless (and Federally endangered) Eastern indigo snake and Georgia’s official state reptile, the gopher tortoise.
The project, along I-95 in Glynn County was put together by The Nature Conservancy. According to today’s press release from Melissa Cummings of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, this venture has been made possible through cooperation between the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Marine Corps, Georgia DNR, The Nature Conservancy and a host of private foundations and supporters, to help increase recreational opportunities for anglers and hunters, as well as protecting crucial Georgia fisheries and watersheds through a healthy stream system, estuaries and other sensitive critical habitats and naturally cleansing biosystems.
“This land features extensive tidal freshwater wetlands and pine flatwoods and provides substantial habitat for wildlife including Georgia’s official state reptile, the gopher tortoise, and the federally endangered Eastern indigo snake. Future restoration, including management with prescribed fire and longleaf pine plantings, will improve the native habitats found here.
The Indigo snake, the largest non-venomous snake in North America, is a harmless and beautiful snake which was once a popular pet and had been used by many dancers and circus shows before being granted Federal Protection due to over-harvesting, habitat loss and other threats. It is dependent on sharing burrows of the gopher tortoise. In fact, the tortoise’s system of burrows creates additional habitat for a variety of other species, which makes protecting the tortoises imperative as an adjunct to saving critical space for many other animals and plants.
According to GopherTortoise.org, “The gopher tortoise is a very important part of the local ecology. As in any food web, if you start taking certain flora or fauna out of the equation, then you can adversely affect the survival of that ecosystem. The gopher tortoise is especially important because the burrows, which are dug by the tortoises, also provide homes for other animals, such as indigo snakes, gopher frogs, mice, foxes, skunks, opossums, rabbits, quail, armadillos, burrowing owls, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads and other invertebrates, gopher tortoise burrows are home to about 250 species of animals at one time or another. Some species share the burrows with the tortoises and others utilize abandoned burrows. Since the burrows are used by so many species, it does not take a rocket scientist to see that removing the tortoises from the local habitat would leave many animals without homes. True, some of these animals will be able to relocate, but there are a few species that are found only in these burrows.”
The acreage, later sold to the DNR at a reduced price, had once been part of an historic Georgia plantation “Altama was once a rice plantation owned by James Hamilton Couper, famous for leading the survey for the Georgia-Florida boundary and designing Christ Church in Savannah. The Eastern indigo snake’s scientific name, Drymarchon couperi, honors Couper, as the first recorded specimen was collected by him in 1842 on the grounds of Altama.
For more information or to see the press release in its entirety please follow this link.