FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 2, 2002
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today extended federal protection to Barge Canal and Sykes Creek in Brevard County, Florida, establishing the two waterways as protected areas for the endangered Florida manatee. The entire length of the Barge Canal and an area extending eastward to the Canaveral Locks will be regulated for slow-speed watercraft operations, both inside and outside the marked channel, all year. Sykes Creek will also be regulated for slow- speed watercraft operation, both inside and outside the marked channel, all year.
"Historically, these two sites have had very high manatee mortality." said Sam Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the Service. "We believe that by extending federal protection to these sites, manatees will receive the protection they need to continue to recover."
The Service will continue its close coordination with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regarding the Commission's proposed manatee protection actions. The agency will also continue to evaluate the need for federal protection at 14 additional sites that were proposed on August 3, 2001. The Service deferred a decision on these 14 sites to allow time for the State to protect these areas under State law. If by December 1, 2002, the State is unable to adopt identical or comparable manatee protection areas and the Service determines that designation is warranted, it will proceed to issue its final decision on whether to establish manatee sanctuaries and refuges at the 14 deferred sites.
"As we finalize our decision on the remaining 14 sites, we will continue to work with state and local agencies to ensure that our action does not duplicate their efforts," Hamilton said.
"Slow" speed is defined as the speed at which a watercraft proceeds fully off plane and is completely settled in the water. Because watercraft of different size and design travel at different speeds, the Service did not assign a specific speed.
Protection and subsequent enforcement of slow-speed zones will take effect once the Service has posted the areas with visible signs and placed announcements in local newspapers. The areas will be enforced by federal and State law enforcement agents, who are currently on the water enforcing manatee speed zones throughout the State of Florida. Concerns have been raised regarding the potential impact of speed zones on certain commercial and other waterborne activities in the Barge Canal. The Service intends at a future date to propose amendments to existing regulations that would allow individuals and entities to request exceptions from speed zone requirements for certain waterborne activities if the requesters can demonstrate that they can meet established criteria for avoiding take of manatees.
In developing its final rule, the Service took into consideration the biological needs of the manatee, as well as the potential economic impacts the federal designations might have. The designation of these manatee protection areas will not eliminate waterway property owner access rights, though all boaters will be required to proceed at slow speed.
The Service's final rule comes after an extensive period of public comment. After publishing its proposed rule on August 3, 2001, the Service conducted four public hearings: September 10 in Crystal River, September 11 in Clearwater, September 12 in Venice, and September 13 in Melbourne. The agency received about 3,500 public comments during the 60-day public comment period. The proposed rule followed an earlier public review process, during which the Service held six public workshops and collected thousands of public comments on its proposal to consider sites throughout Florida as possible federal manatee protection areas.
Recreational and commercial use of waterways throughout the southeastern United States has increased dramatically due to residential growth and tourism. This is particularly true in Florida, leading to increased conflicts between watercraft and manatees. Watercraft account for about 80 percent of all human-caused manatee deaths, and approximately 75 percent of these deaths take place in 11 Florida counties: Brevard, Lee, Collier, Duval, Volusia, Broward, Palm Beach, Charlotte, Hillsborough, Citrus and Sarasota.
Copies of the final rule may be requested by mail at Jacksonville Field Office, 6620 Southpoint Drive, Suite 310, Jacksonville, FL 32216-0958, by telephone at 904/232-2580 extension 122 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.
NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://southeast.fws.gov. Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/.
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