Gopher tortoise burrows cause North Port road closures

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A protected species of tortoise is making travel around a North Port neighborhood increasingly difficult.

Gopher tortoises, known to dig deep burrows underground, aren't interested in sharing the road with other travelers. 

Ed Brogan lives near the intersection of Irdell and Irby Terrace. He said he received an unusual message a few weeks ago.

"I got an alert on my cell phone that they were closing the two streets indefinitely," he said.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), gopher tortoises dig deep burrows for shelter and forage on low-growing plants. They share these burrows with more than 350 other species, and are therefore referred to as a keystone species. 

Gopher tortoises are also considered a threatened species, making it - and its burrows - protected by state law. 

"We think it is a juvenile burrow," said Jon Kalfsbeck with the City of North Port Public Works Department.

At first one popped up. Then a second popped up just across the way.

"You can't mistake their burrows you can normally tell a gopher tortoise burrow by the mound of fresh dirt that has been moved in front of the burrow," said Kalfsbeck. "They are considered a keystone species. They are very important to our environment."

The city is treating the road closure like a road washout.

Since gopher tortoises are known to burrow under the road, they don't want it to cave in on any drivers. The city said it also wants to keep the tortoises safe.

"This one here is, as far as we can tell, goes several feet under the road," pointed out Kalfsbeck.

The two aren't the only new burrows popping up around the area. The city tracks them all on an app.

"The burrows seem to be popping up more often now near nuisance types areas like the roadways and draining ditches areas where they are normally not located. We think that is because of all the construction that has been going on," said Kalfsbeck.

One thing is certain, they want to make sure the gopher tortoises stay safe until a biologist can help relocate them.