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North Florida Field Office

Service to implement emergency measures to
protect manatees in three Florida counties


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Date: September 20, 2002 - Revised
Release #: 010-02

Media Contacts:
Chuck Underwood, 904/731-3332
Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will extend Federal emergency manatee protection to seven locations in three Florida counties on Friday. Notice of the emergency action, which is being taken in connection with recent U.S. District Court orders, was filed today with the Federal Register and is scheduled for publication there and in numerous newspapers throughout Florida on September 20.

The designated manatee protection areas include one sanctuary in Citrus County; one sanctuary and one associated refuge in Pinellas County; and two sanctuaries and two associated refuges in Hillsborough County. All these areas will be seasonal protection areas from October 1 through March 31, inclusive. These areas, along with nine others, were originally identified in a proposed rule that was published in the Federal Register on August 3, 2001.

"We remain steadfast in our commitment to effective measures to ensure the survival and eventual recovery of the Florida manatee. In line with that commitment, we are taking these emergency actions in areas where we believe such designations will be of the most benefit during the upcoming cold weather," said Sam Hamilton, the Service's Southeast Regional Director.

As part of a court approved settlement agreement between the Federal defendants, plaintiffs, and interveners: development and boating interests, the Service agreed to evaluate the need for new manatee refuges and sanctuaries throughout peninsular Florida. During an initial 2000-2001 evaluation of imminent threats facing manatees at sites that may warrant emergency protection as sanctuaries or refuges, the Service did not identify any sites where an emergency designation was appropriate.

On July 9, 2002, a U.S. District Court Judge in Washington, D. C. determined that the Service's actions did not satisfy the terms of the settlement agreement, and that the Service must designate both refuges and sanctuaries in a broader area of peninsular Florida pursuant to the settlement agreement.

Under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Service can designate emergency protection measures when it determines that "take" of a manatee is imminent and designation is necessary to prevent the taking. Take is defined as the harassment, death or injury of a listed species, among other harmful actions.

Consistent with the court's order, the Service undertook a new evaluation of its potential sites and now believes these seven (7) wintering sites, described in our August 10, 2001, proposed rule to establish 16 additional manatee protection areas in Florida, meet the criteria for emergency designation. The Service's review found that there is imminent danger of a take of one or more manatees in these warm-water wintering sites because manatees congregate in these locations seasonally, that there is a history of harassment at these and/or similar sites, future take is likely, current regulatory measures are inadequate, and State or local actions will not have been implemented by the winter season. Emergency designation is appropriate at this time because it will reduce the potential for take to occur before a final designation can be prepared, published and posted for these sites.

"We have previously exercised our emergency authority under the Act in similar warm water flows where manatees gather during the winter months, " Hamilton said, noting that the Service last exercised its emergency designation authority in 1997 when it designated an area adjacent to the Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County as a sanctuary.

The emergency designation of these seasonal Federal manatee protection areas will go into effect on September 20, 2002. Upon posting of appropriate signs on or about October 1, 2002, all waterborne activities will be excluded within designated sanctuaries and certain activities will be restricted within the refuges.

Designation of manatee refuges or sanctuaries will not eliminate waterway property owner access rights. Public and private property owners and their designees would be permitted watercraft access and allowed to maintain property and waterways when their property is located in a manatee sanctuary or refuge. Any authorized boating activity would be conducted by operating watercraft at idle speed in sanctuaries and slow speed in refuges.

The Service will publish its final decision on a permanent designation of the seven locations given emergency protection today and the remaining seven sites from the original August 2001 proposal on or before November 1, 2002. Additional information on this action, including maps of the designated areas, is available on the Service's North Florida web site at http://www.fws.gov/northflorida.

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.

- FWS -

Manatee Sanctuary Restrictions

By regulation, all waterborne activities, such as swimming, diving, snorkeling and fishing, are prohibited. In seasonal sanctuaries, these restrictions are in place only during the posted time frame. Public and private property owners will be permitted to access and maintain property that lies within a designated sanctuary, but must operate their watercraft at idle speed while in the designated area.

Specific Refuge Restrictions by location

South Gandy Navigational Channel (Bartow Electric Generating Plant)

Area of Designation: That portion of the South Gandy Navigation Channel in Pinellas County between channel marker "1" and the point of land southwest of channel marker "5."

Restriction: Watercraft are required to operate at slow speed from October 1 through March 31, inclusive.

Tampa Electric Company (TECO) Big Bend

Area of Designation: The entrance channel and those waters south of the manatee sanctuary at the TECO Big Bend Generating Station in Hillsborough County.

Restriction: Watercraft are required to operate at idle speed from October 1 through March 31, inclusive.

Port Sutton (TECO Gannon Electric Generating Plant)

Area of Designation: Those waters surrounding the manatee sanctuary at the Port Sutton manatee sanctuary, including all waters within Port Sutton, Hillsborough County.

Restriction: Watercraft are required to operate at idle speed from October 1 through March 31, inclusive.

Definition of "Slow" and "Idle" Speeds

"Idle" speed is defined as the minimum speed necessary to maintain watercraft steerage.

"Slow" speed is defined as the speed in which the watercraft proceeds fully off plane and is completely settled in the water. Since watercraft of different sizes and configurations may travel at different speeds, a specific speed is not assigned. However, a watercraft is NOT proceeding at slow speed if it is - (1) on plane, (2) in the process of coming up on or coming off of plane, or (3) is creating an excessive wake. A watercraft IS proceeding at slow speed if it is fully off plane and completely settled in the water, not plowing or creating an excessive wake. Protections areas may also carry a channel qualifier: exempt or included. In such instances, this refers to the existing marked navigational channel.

- FWS -

For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at http://www.fws.gov


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Last modified January 14, 2004