The purchase of coastal land for conservation will help protect gopher tortoises that live there.

a gopher tortoise

Gopher tortoises are a candidate for endangered species listing in Georgia.

Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife

The governing board of the state Department of Natural Resources has approved the $4.6 million purchase of a large tract of land in Camden County. It’s part of an effort to keep Georgia’s gopher tortoises off the endangered species list.

The 16,000-acre property, known as the Ceylon Wildlife Management Area, is home to multiple gopher tortoise populations, so preserving it from development could go a long way in helping protect the species.

In turn, doing that helps more than 100 other animal species that use gopher tortoise holes, including burrowing owls, foxes and indigo snakes, according to Charles McMillan of the Georgia Conservancy.

McMillan called the gopher tortoise "the apartment builders of the longleaf pine forest.”

McMillan said the restrictions that would come with an endangered species listing could have a serious economic impact. Currently, the tortoise is not listed as threatened or endangered, but is a candidate for such listing — leading to proactive efforts to protect the species. 

The land purchase now goes to the General Assembly for approval. It’s one of several projects being funded under the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act.