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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Extends Comment Period for Proposed Management Changes at Three Sisters Springs

November 23, 2015

A large grey manatee

Manatee. Photo: USFWS

In response to requests received from the local community and elected officials, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is extending the comment period by more than three weeks on a draft proposal for the future management of Three Sisters Springs at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge through Friday, December 18, 2015.

“In conversations with tour operators, the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, and congressional representatives, we believe extending the comment period on our revised proposal is needed,” said James Burnett, project leader for the Northwest Florida National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

The Service seeks public review of this draft Environmental Assessment, which also can be found on Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge’s website. More information about this can be found on the Southeast Region homepage. Comments must be submitted by December 18, 2015. Comments may be e-mailed to:

New Report Assesses the Impacts of Emerging Threats on Gulf Coast Species and Ecosystems

November 13, 2015

A brown pelican soaring over a brackish marsh with in the Gulf of Mexico

Brown pelican at Pelican Island NWR. Credit: USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment (GCVA), a comprehensive report that evaluates the effects of climate change, sea level rise and urbanization on four Gulf Coast ecosystems and 11 species that depend on them. The ecosystems are mangrove, oyster reef, tidal emergent marsh and barrier islands. The species are roseate spoonbill, blue crab, clapper rail, mottled duck, spotted seatrout, eastern oyster, American oystercatcher, red drum, black skimmer, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and Wilson’s plover.

Of the species assessed, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is thought to be the most vulnerable species across the Gulf Coast. Experts identified its main threat as loss of nesting habitat to sea level rise, erosion, and urbanization. Tidal emergent marsh is considered to be the most vulnerable ecosystem, due in part to sea level rise and erosion. In general, avian species were more vulnerable than fish because of nesting habitat loss to sea level rise, erosion and potential increases in storm surge.

“The Gulf Coast region supports some of the most diverse species and ecosystems in the world,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “It also faces some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. The Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment will help our agency identify and assess areas that are susceptible to climate change and other stressors while working with our partners to protect and conserve this ecological safe haven for generations to come.”

Read the full release...

New Restoration Projects Funded by National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Complement USFWS Conservation Efforts on National Wildlife Refuges on the Gulf Coast

November 10, 2015

A brown pelican perched on a fence with a National Wildlife Refuge Sign that reads

A brown pelican perched on a sign. Photo: USFWS

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced it is awarding more than $80 million from its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) to 22 projects designed to benefit natural resources that were impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Eight of these new projects will be implemented either in or near National Wildlife Refuges managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Altogether, these projects will receive approximately $20 million from the GEBF in this round of funding. The newly funded efforts will further the National Wildlife Refuge System’s mission to conserve, manage and restore the fish, wildlife, plant and habitat resources of the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

A new GEBF-supported project in Alabama targeting the acquisition of 647 acres of priority coastal habitat will complement the conservation benefits provided by the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In Mississippi, a project focused on enhancing and restoring habitat on federal lands in coastal Mississippi is expected to lead to the restoration of more than 30,000 acres contained within Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Gulf Islands National Seashore and the De Soto National Forest.

In the state of Texas, two new projects being funded by the GEBF will complement existing conservation efforts within the nearby Aransas National Wildlife Refuge: one will conserve 600 acres and complete the contiguous protection of 16,100 acres of tidal marshes and flats, intermediate and brackish wetlands, wet prairies, and shorelines on San Antonio Bay; another will evaluate options for protecting and enhancing colonial waterbird rookery islands within the Matagorda Bay system. Three new projects will impact the Laguna Atascosa NWR: one will increase the size of the refuge with the acquisition of a 1,780-acres, and two will enhance 670 acres of wetlands and restore 36 acres of critical bird nesting islands within it. A sixth project in Texas will enhance and complete two critical colonial waterbird and coastal seabird nesting islands within the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Offers Refined Alternative for Access to Three Sisters Springs
Seeks 14-day Public Review as 2015-16 Manatee Season Nears

November 10, 2015

A group of manatees swims just below the surface of the warm water

A group of Florida manatees. Photo: Jim Reid, USFWS

A refined proposal to provide access to Three Sisters Springs at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is being released today and it includes three noteworthy changes from an August draft proposal released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

After reviewing more than 2,600 comments from citizens, local leaders and the business community, the Service released a revised draft Environmental Assessment for public comment that it believes better matches up its need to protect manatees with local tourism and business interests and its partnership with the City of Crystal River.

The refined alternative, referred to as Modified Guided In-Water Manatee Viewing or Alternative D, would reduce the maximum number of visitors allowed in the water at any one time from 29 to 13, including required guides. It proposes changes to how people will access the water and limits access points. And finally, it proposes to shift responsibility for issuing permits to tour operators and dive shops from the Service to the City of Crystal River. This is possible since the City is a co-owner/manager of the property. A Memorandum of Understanding would be put in place that would clearly outline the process and how access would be managed. The Service will continue to provide training to permit holders and manage permitted access for commercial film and photography professionals.

Read the full release...
Revised Proposal to Provide Access to Three Sisters Springs at Crystal River NWR
Manatee Species Profile

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, States, celebrate 20th Anniversary of the Safe Harbor Program offering voluntary land management agreements with private landowners

November 6, 2015

Red-cockaded woodpecker with wings spread flying by a tree with stripped bark

Red-cockaded woodpecker. Credit: Martjan Lammertink, U.S. Forest Service.

More than 400 private landowners across nine states are voluntarily managing their forests through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Safe Harbor Program to benefit the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The eight State agencies administering the program to landowners received special recognition this week at the Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association Fish and Wildlife Agencies meeting in Asheville, North Carolina.

“Private landowners have voluntarily enrolled almost 2.5 million acres in the Safe Harbor Program benefitting 835 groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers,” said Leopoldo Miranda, Assistant Regional Director of Ecological Services in the Southeast Region. “We would like to thank our eight state conservation agency partners that are providing a vital service by enrolling these very important private landowners in the program and for red-cockaded woodpecker conservation.”

The Service started the Safe Harbor Program at the Pinehurst Resort in the North Carolina Sandhills in 1995. Private landowners in the Sandhills already had been managing their longleaf pine forests for a variety of uses that also benefitted and could increase red-cockaded woodpeckers. However, many landowners worried about how additional land use restrictions would reduce timber or other land use income, and they were compelled to stop beneficial management. The creation of the Safe Harbor Program provides an incentive for landowners to continue voluntary management efforts because they are assured there will be no additional land use restrictions under the Endangered Species Act if red-cockaded woodpeckers increase on their property.

Read the full release...

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Last updated: November 23, 2015