A Homosassa man’s hatred of gopher tortoises got him into trouble in May after he was cited for allegedly stuffing logs into the entrances of several of the endangered reptiles’ underground homes.
Nick Theodore Barkley, 63, has a pretrial hearing scheduled for July 2 in front of County Judge Mark Yerman to face a second-degree misdemeanor charge of damaging a gopher tortoise burrow, court records show.
Barkley also faces a charge of failing to appear for court in Pinellas County.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Chase Creel apprehended Barkley May 11 while investigating blockaded burrows on a vacant Sugarmill Woods lot near the intersection of Hollyhock Court and Birchtree Street, according to Barkley’s offense report and a Monday news release from FWC.
A neighbor told Creel he spotted a man putting logs, dirt and bags of yard debris inside the holes, and shared photos of the man and the license plate of his car, reports show.
Creel was able to identify Barkley as the vehicle’s owner, and later confronted Barkley at the crime scene.
Creel detained Barkley after finding out he had a warrant out for his arrest for failure to appear at an August 2018 hearing in Pinellas County traffic court on a June 2018 charge of DUI. Barkley has a pretrial hearing set in that case for June 24, records show.
While waiting for Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputies to book him, Barkley told Creel that blocking the tortoises’ burrows wasn't harmful because the animals would find another way out, adding, “that he hated all the burrows and wanted them all gone,” his offense report states.
Gopher tortoises are considered threatened in Florida and protected under state law. It is illegal to "take, pursue, hunt, harass, capture, possess, sell or transport any gopher tortoise or parts thereof or their eggs, or molest, damage, or destroy gopher tortoise burrows, except as authorized," according to Florida Administrative Code.
To report a suspected wildlife law violation, call the 24-hour FWC Wildlife Alert Reward Program at 888-404-3922. Reports can also be submitted at myfwc.com/contact/wildlife-alert/. Tipsters may be compensated for information that leads to an arrest.