New wildlife refuge will help protect Georgia state reptile

A new wildlife management area in south-central Georgia now offers thousands of acres of protected habitat for the state’s threatened state reptile, the gopher tortoise

The Department of Natural Resources announced this week the purchase of more than 3,000 acres in Wheeler County to create the Alligator Creek Wildlife Management Area. 

The $3 million deal helps protect what was considered one of the top five unprotected tortoise populations in the state, Matt Elliott, DNR’s assistant chief for the Nongame Conservation Section, said. 

The tract is open to the public for bird-watching, hiking and hunting. 

Located near where the Little Ocmulgee River and Alligator Creek meet north of Lumber City, the property previously was harvested for timber. The Nature Conservancy purchased the property last year and in December the State Properties Commission agreed to buy it and protect it. 

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The state used grants from the U.S. Fish &  Wildlife Service, the Knobloch  Family Foundation and a $1.1 million state bond to fund the purchase. 

The gopher tortoise is considered threatened and is a candidate for listing as endangered. 

The creation of the wildlife management area is part of a larger Nature Conservancy and DNR goal to protect 100,000 acres of tortoise habitat to keep the species off the endangered list. 

Amelia Island gopher tortoise, a threatened species, makes it's way back through dunes to the beach after Hurricane Matthew.

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