May 13, 2003
The U.S. Fish and Wild Serviceís designation of "area of inadequate protection" (AIP) along the Caloosahatchee River in Lee County and the northern portion of Lemon Bay and Peace River Manatee refuges in Charlotte County, Florida have been lifted by the Service.
"The Service has been particularly impressed with the efforts put forth by Lee County and the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers," said Sam Hamilton, regional director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Region Four in Atlanta, in a letter to Donald D. Stilwell, Lee County manager.
A similar letter was sent to Bruce Loucks, county administrator of Charlotte County citing the two refuges had been designated and the signage was complete. Hamilton said since the area is patrolled by Service law enforcement, the area is no longer designated AIP.
He said both counties improved signage and increased law enforcement played a key role in lifting the designation. Also key to the decision is the boating publicís compliance with posted speed zones.
However, the manatee issue is not over.
Hamilton told the counties, while the AIP designation concern is over in the Caloosahatchee and in the manatee refuges in Charlotte County, there are still areas in both counties that remain designated as AIP and will remain so until appropriate measures to protect manatees are implemented in those areas.
"If appropriate measures are implemented in those areas, a change in their current designation could also occur," said Hamilton.
Hamilton urged Lee County to continue with its efforts to solidify manatee protection via the Lee County Manatee Protection Plan.
Charlotte County likewise is currently developing its own manatee protection plan and is also urged to solidify its efforts to protect manatees.
However, if these initiatives do not result in continued reduction in manatee mortality the Service has a responsibility to review these waters to protect the manatees.
"We will continue to closely monitor these areas because of the high historic mortalities and the year-round utilization of the area by manatees," said Hamilton. "If the current trend changes, we will need to re-evaluate and implement an adaptive management approach to improving manatee protection in the future."
Of utmost concern to the counties is what this does for outstanding single and multi-family dock permits currently being held by the Serviceís South Florida Field Office.
"Currently we have more than 500 permit requests for citizens along the Caloosahatchee and little more than 50 on the Peace River and in Lemon Bay," said Jay Slack, field supervisor of the South Florida Field Office in Vero Beach. "If the only concern we had for those requests was they were in an area previously designated AIP, we will begin processing and return them to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Myers with our determination as soon as we can."
Slack said he would not make an estimate of when they will be done, but committed to start processing them immediately.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is, working with others, to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The South Florida field office is a unit of the Southeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based in Atlanta.
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/.
Atlanta, GA 30345