As quality of forested habitat declines from altered fire regimes, gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) often move into ruderal areas to the detriment of the animal and land manager. We evaluated effects of a dormant-and-growing-season prescribed fire on habitat and gopher tortoise use of degraded longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forests surrounding military training areas. We burned 4 of 8 sites in winter 2001–2002 and again in April 2003. Changes in vegetation measured during 2001–2004 indicated that burn treatments did not increase herbaceous vegetation. Similarly, movement patterns, burrow usage, and home range of tortoises radiotracked from 2002–2004 did not differ between treatments. Woody cover initially was reduced in the forests postburn, and we found more new burrows in burned forest sites. Once shrub cover was reduced, tortoises started using forested habitat that had become overgrown. However, shrub reduction may be temporary, as woody stem densities increased postburn. Thus, the one-time use of fire to manage tortoise habitat may not rapidly restore the open canopy, sparse woody midstory, and abundant herbaceous vegetation that this species requires. Repeated prescribed fires or additional management techniques may be needed for complete restoration.
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Vol. 71 • No. 2