Final Decision published March 16, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Chuck Underwood, 904-731-3332
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Broadened Florida Manatee Protections in Kings Bay
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today a proposal to expand federal protection areas for manatees in Citrus County, Florida, by creating a manatee refuge including all of Kings Bay in Crystal River. The proposed area of the Kings Bay manatee refuge has not changed from what was identified in the emergency designation.
The manatee refuge would include all waters of Kings Bay, its tributaries and adjoining water bodies upstream of the confluence of Kings Bay and Crystal River. In addition to the proposed rule, the Service is making available its related draft environmental assessment (EA) for comment.
The proposal reflects the first part of the rulemaking process that would permanently establish the November 2010 emergency designation of a federal manatee refuge in Kings Bay. This action, taken under the provisions contained in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), would provide the Service with management options to address the needs of the increasing number of manatees using the Kings Bay area throughout the year.
The Service designated the first manatee sanctuaries in 1980. At that time, about 100 manatees were using the network of springs and the number of people viewing manatees was estimated at 30,000 to 40,000 per year. Today, more than 550 manatees use Kings Bay and winter manatee viewing activities are estimated to exceed 100,000 people each winter. In recent years, manatees have also been observed using Kings Bay during the summer months.
“The number of manatees using Kings Bay throughout the year has simply outgrown the capacity of existing protected areas,” said Dave Hankla, the Service’s North Florida Ecological Services Office supervisor, adding, “and human use of the bay has increased beyond the impacts originally considered when the existing protections were created.”
Manatee mortalities within Kings Bay have also increased during this period of time. Of the 16 watercraft-related manatee deaths known to have occurred in Kings Bay, 13 of those were in the last 10 years. Seven of these deaths occurred during the summer months between May 1 and August 30.
By regulations established under the authorities of the ESA and the MMPA, the Service can establish manatee protection areas when there is substantial evidence showing such establishment is necessary to prevent the taking of one or more manatees. Take is generally defined as the harassment, harm, death or injury of a listed species, along with a variety of other harmful actions. Manatee protection areas can be either manatee sanctuaries or manatee refuges.
Manatee refuges are areas where certain waterborne activities, such as watercraft speed, are restricted to prevent the taking of one or more manatees. Manatee sanctuaries are areas in which all waterborne activities are prohibited. The Kings Bay manatee refuge joins an existing federal manatee protection network of 11 sanctuaries and 13 refuges. The Kings Bay manatee refuge will not eliminate the 7 existing sanctuary areas already established in Kings Bay but compliment them by addressing take resulting from waterborne activities in the remaining areas.
The proposed area of the Kings Bay manatee refuge has not changed from what was identified in the emergency designation, however, additional provisions are being proposed.
The new provisions include watercraft speed restrictions in Kings Bay to slow speed year-round except in those areas where more restrictive measures are in place. Also, the ability to create temporary no-entry areas around lesser springs like House Spring, in addition to those areas identified in the emergency designation is included. The provisions also provide the ability to establish temporary no-entry areas for no more than 14 days if a cold front hits before the manatee season begins or after the manatee season has closed to prevent manatees from being harassed in Kings Bay.
If made final, manatee viewing guidelines, many of which have been in place for several years, would be permanently incorporated into the rule as prohibited acts and would be legally enforceable by federal and state marine law enforcement officers. Activities identified in the proposed rule that would be specifically prohibited throughout the manatee refuge include:
In addition to the above prohibited activities, the following waterborne activities would be prohibited within Three Sisters Springs from November 15 to March 31:
Manatee protection areas are designated in the water and do not include land acquisition or land parcels. Public and private waterfront property owners and their designees retain riparian access to their properties and can maintain property and waterways when their property adjoins or is located in a manatee refuge. Public and private waterfront property owners would be required to obtain a sticker and letter of authorization allowing them to operate their boats and conduct property and waterway maintenance activities in a manner consistent with the refuge or sanctuary measures that are in effect adjacent to their property.
The Service encourages all stakeholders to comment on the proposed designation. Comments are particularly sought concerning: (1) the reasons why this area should or should not be designated as a manatee refuge, including information supporting the need for any changes; (2) current or planned activities in the subject area and their possible effects on manatees; (3) any foreseeable economic or other impacts resulting from the proposed designation; (4) any substantive information on real or potential effects of the proposed manatee refuge on manatees; and (5) any actions that could be considered in lieu of, or in conjunction with, the proposed designation that would provide equivalent protection to the manatee against the threat of take.
Please note that submissions merely stating support for or opposition to the proposed rule without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a final decision, as the ESA and our implementing regulations direct decisions be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.”
You may submit comments on the proposed rule and EA by one of the following methods:
Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R4–ES–2010–0079].
U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. [FWS–R4–ES–2010–0079]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
Verbally by attending the formal public hearing. You may also submit written comments at the public hearing.
Comments must be received within 60 days, on or before August 22, 2011. The Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes.
The Service has scheduled an informational open house and formal public hearing on July 7, 2011, as follows:
Informational Open House: 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Formal Public Hearing: 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The open house affords the interested parties an informal opportunity to hear information and ask questions about the proposed manatee refuge rule. The formal public hearing provides a formal, structured opportunity for interested parties to verbally express their comments on the proposed rule.
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Final Decision published March 16, 2012