North Florida Field Office
Release # 002-02
Date: April 16, 2002
Chuck Underwood, 904-232-2580 x109
Jim Rothschild, 404-679-7291
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to amend its existing regulations to allow for potential exceptions to watercraft speed restrictions on the Barge Canal Federal Manatee Protection Area in Brevard County, Florida. The amendment, if approved, would enable the Service to consider the needs of responsible boaters while ensuring that no endangered Florida manatees are taken.
"Our first priority is to protect manatees, but we understand the concerns of the people who use the Barge Canal," said Sam Hamilton, the Service's southeast regional director. "We have always tried to develop flexible management strategies that allow us to work with recreational and commercial users to avoid impacts to threatened and endangered species. This proposed amendment provides just such an opportunity."
Current regulations do not provide a process for granting exceptions to watercraft speed restrictions, which were announced January 7, 2002 for two areas in Brevard County - the Barge Canal and at Sykes Creek. The proposed amendment would allow Barge Canal users to petition the Service for an exception to watercraft speed restrictions, only if measures are taken to ensure no take of manatees occurs in the course of their activities.
The entire Barge Canal will soon be regulated for slow speed watercraft operations, a designation that requires operators to ensure that their watercraft are off plane and fully settled in the water while in the canal. The restrictions, which will be enforced by Federal and State law enforcement agents once the Service has posted visible signs in the area, are designed to control boat speeds in an effort to reduce the incidence of fatal collisions with manatees, the leading human-caused threat to the species.
During the public comment period on its original proposal to designate the Barge Canal in Brevard County as a federal manatee protection area, the Service received comments from people concerned that existing watercraft use of the canal would be eliminated or severely restricted, and that the loss of these uses would result in substantial hardship to affected parties.
According to Dave Hankla, field supervisor at the Service's Jacksonville field office, the Service was asked for an exception at the Barge Canal site.
"If proper precautions are taken, it might be possible for someone to exceed the speed zone requirements within the protection area and ensure that no manatees are taken," Hankla said.
Under the proposed amendment, individuals, businesses or organizations would be able to apply for a Letter of Exception which would allow them to exceed posted speed zone restrictions. Applicants would need to outline in detail what measures they propose to implement to ensure manatees are not taken as a result of their activity. If an exception is approved, the Service would issue a Letter of Exception specifying the conditions and restrictions under which the activity could be conducted so as to ensure that no take of manatees occurs.
The Service's proposal is initially limited to the Barge Canal refuge area until it has determined whether or not an exception process is viable and effective. Speed zone restrictions on Sykes Creek will at this time remain unaffected by the proposed exception process.
Public comments on the proposal are being sought. Written comments may be mailed or faxed to the address listed below. Comments must be received by close of business on June 17.
The proposed amendment, fact sheet and a list of frequently asked questions are available online at http://www.fws.gov/northflorida; may be requested in writing at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6620 Southpoint Dr., South, Suite 310, Jacksonville, FL 32216-0958; or by fax at 904-232-2404.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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