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North Florida Field Office

Fact Sheet on Amendment to Lower St. Johns River Federal manatee protection area


Background

Manatees are a federally protected species under both the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

In January 2000, several organizations and individuals filed suit against the Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Administrative Procedure Act. Following intensive negotiations a settlement agreement was approved by the court on January 5, 2001 . In October 2001, the plaintiffs filed a Notice of Controversy with the Department of Justice, challenging certain actions taken by the Service alleging that these actions violated the settlement agreement. On July 9, 2002, the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the Service had not fulfilled its requirements under the settlement agreement to designate Federal manatee protection areas (MPA) throughout peninsular Florida.

To resolve these controversies, the Service and plaintiffs agreed to a Stipulated Order wherein the Service agreed to submit to the Federal Register, by March 31, 2003, a proposed rule for the designation of additional MPAs in the Caloosahatchee River , the St. Johns River, and the Halifax River/Tomoka River. On March 18, 2003 , the U. S. District Court judge signed the Stipulated Order. The Service subsequently submitted the proposed rule to the Federal Register (68 FR 16602) on March 31, 2003. A public comment period on the proposed rule was open from April 4 through June 3, 2003. Additionally, we held public hearings in Fort Myers on May 13; Daytona Beach on May 14; and in Jacksonville on May 15. The Service published its Final Rule in the Federal Register (68 FR 46917) on August 6, 2003.

Issue

Subsequent to the Final Rule, State and local officials notified the Service that portions of the Duval designations if posted as outlined in the Final Rule could pose a boating safety issue and would be problematic for State and local law enforcement to enforce.

Status

For the past 18 plus months, the Service has cooperated with State and local officials, as well as parties to the original Stipulated Order, to review and develop revised zones in the specific areas of concern.

The modifications to the current configuration outlined in this Final Rule will eliminate some restrictions and provide a greater margin of safety between recreational boaters and large private and commercial vessels. It will also allow for MPA boundary signs on wooden posts to be replaced with buoys; thereby reducing the collision danger associated with these markers.

This modification also resolves the concerns noted by State and local enforcement agencies who have agreed to assist in enforcing this area as modified. Increased enforcement will improve the effectiveness of the protection measures not only for the benefit of manatees, but for human safety as well.

Improved posting in the area will make compliance by the public easier; and with the support of the State and local regulatory agencies for this modification, manatee protection throughout the Lower St. Johns Manatee Refuge will be improved. Parties to the Stipulated Order participating in this process also agreed to the modifications.

Questions?

This Final Rule Amendment and associated information materials are available at our web site: northflorida.fws.gov. Paper copies may be requested by e-mail at manatee@fws.gov, by fax at 904-232-2404, or by writing to U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Amended Final MPA Rule, 6620 Southpoint Dr. S, Suite 310 , Jacksonville , FL 32216 . Please include your name and full-street mailing address to facilitate shipping.

If you have specific questions or need special assistance, please contact our Jacksonville Field Office at 904-232-2580, ext. 109.


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Send comments on our web site or general questions to northflorida@fws.gov
If you need special assistance please contact the Public Affairs Officer at chuck_underwood@fws.gov

Last modified April 28, 2005