Environmental Assessment and Wildlife Relocations for 40KW Photovoltaic Solar Farm at the City of Tallahassee International Airport

Ecologists flagging vegetation

Cardno provided environmental consulting services, including gopher tortoise relocation, on the site of a future solar farm in Leon County, Florida.

The Cardno team performed environmental assessments, permitting, construction training, biomonitoring, post-construction species monitoring, and reporting associated with the development of a 350-acre solar farm located adjacent to the Apalachicola National Forest (ANF) in Northern Florida.

Staff performed on-site work including land use mapping, wetland delineations, listed species surveys, and associated habitat mapping. Listed species surveys focused on species known to occur regionally including the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), Florida pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus), eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi), and Southeastern American Kestrel (Falco sparverius paulus). During site assessments, Cardno confirmed the presence of Florida pine snakes on the site and flagged/recorded the GPS coordinates of 144 burrows potentially occupied by gopher tortoises or pine snakes.

Cardno assisted in securing the appropriate environmental approvals and permits from the City of Tallahassee and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission, including a Conservation Permit for the relocation of gopher tortoises and an Incidental Take Permit for the Florida pine snake. Cardno also secured an FWC-issued Scientific Research Permit authorizing the use of the first-ever gopher tortoise gate guard in the state of Florida. The gate design was a species-specific modification of similar guards used for exclusion of the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) in the western U.S.

Prior to development, Cardno enclosed the project with a partially buried (20 cm) 0.9-m tall silt fence and divided the site into three cells. Both burrow excavation/scoping and land clearing activities progressed from southern to northern cells and from east to west within each cell to encourage the movement of uncaptured wildlife towards the ANF. Cardno scoped and excavated 144 burrows and then intensively monitored the site during land clearing to remove and relocate all detected reptiles from this xeric oak-dominated site into the ANF, including the threatened gopher tortoise and Florida pine snake.

In total, Cardno relocated 20 tortoises and had 71 observations of 10 species of terrestrial snakes, of which 55 individuals were relocated, 7 escaped capture, and 9 were found dead from construction-related activities.

The Cardno team also authored and implemented a relocation and monitoring plan for the state-endangered and endemic plant bent golden aster (Pityopsis flexuosa). Our team excavated and relocated more than 500 specimens of this aster to protected recipient lands. Cardno will also be conducting post relocation survivorship surveys and reporting annually for the next three years.

Learn more about the project through this educational FWC video.