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North Florida Field Office

Fact Sheet on Final Federal Designation of Three Manatee Protection Areas in five Florida Counties


Background

Manatees are a federally protected species under both the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. Historically, collisions with watercraft are responsible for about 25 percent of all manatee deaths and about 80 percent of all human-caused mortality in manatees.

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. Four groups representing development and boating interests intervened. 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. In April 2002, the plaintiffs filed an Expedited Motion to Enforce 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 refuges and sanctuaries throughout peninsular Florida. Additionally, the Court ordered that all defendants, including Secretary Gale Norton and the other individually-named and agency defendants, show cause why they should not be held in contempt of court.

Issue

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 manatee protection areas in the Caloosahatchee River, the St. Johns River, and the Halifax River/Tomoka River. The Service also agreed to submit its final decision on these sites to the Federal Register on or before July 31, 2003. On March 18, 2003, the U. S. District Court judge signed the Stipulated Order and vacated the Courtís order to show cause. The Service subsequently submitted the proposed rule to the Federal Register (68 FR 16602) on March 31, 2003.

Status

A public comment period on the proposed rule was open from April 4 through June 3, 2003. During the comment period, we received approximately 5,931 written and oral comments concerning the proposal. Most were form letters expressing support for the proposed designation; however, most substantive comments expressed concern or opposition to the proposed action.

We held public hearings in Fort Myers on May 13; Daytona Beach on May 14; and in Jacksonville on May 15. Approximately 3,325 people were in attendance at the public hearings and we received 203 individual oral comments. In addition to soliciting comments from the public, we solicited peer review comments from three independent experts in manatee ecology, boating activity, and waterway regulation.

This final rule reflects the results of a detailed analysis of the areas including, but not limited to, careful evaluation of manatee and watercraft use information, site visits, coordination with State and local regulatory experts, and review of public comments.

The final designations contribute to recovery and provide high levels of protection in the areas where manatees are most vulnerable to take and allow for appropriate human use in areas where interaction between boats and manatees is much less likely.

Questions?

The final rule and associated information materials are available at our web site: http://www.fws.gov/northflorida. 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: 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 August 1, 2003