Andrew Gude, Refuge Manager
352-563-2088 ext. 202
352-563-2088 ext. 205
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its Final Environmental Assessment “Manatee Wildlife Viewing on Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Three Sisters Springs, Citrus County, Florida.”
“We appreciate the public’s support for our mission, and we carefully considered everyone’s comments,” said Andrew Gude, who manages Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, as well as Lower Suwannee, Cedar Keys, and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuges. “Thanks to that input, we hope we have reached the best way to protect manatees, and provide for positive experiences for people wanting to swim with these gentle giants.”
This allows the Service to implement the precautionary measures to avert disturbance of manatees from watercraft and manatee viewing activities for the remainder of the 2014 – 2015 manatee season.
“We will continue to study this complex issue as we plan for long term management in the upcoming Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the entire refuge,” said Gude.
After receiving input from the public, a proposal to restrict in-water visitation only between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. was not adopted. Due to the tidal influence on manatee movements, it was determined that limiting visitor use to these hours was overly restrictive and unsubstantiated. The refuge will instead flexibly-manage opening and closing the springs on an intra-day basis using observations of tidal cycles and manatee numbers in Three Sisters Springs.
The following actions will now take effect for this season:
The alternatives and scope of the affected environment for this Environmental Assessment were compiled after considering public comments and meetings for the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan. They included public meetings on February 6, 2008; November 16, 18, and 20, 2010; December 2, 2010; January 4, 2011; July 7, 2011; March 19, 2013; and July 11, 2013.
The public provided about 5,000 written comments during the comment period. The majority of the comments were non-governmental organizations’ form letters or petitions with multiple signatures. Comments came from individuals, conservation organizations, property owners, tour operators, business owners, local officials, and other stakeholders. The majority of the comments expressed support to protect manatees at Three Sisters Springs through varying levels of management. A few opposed the interim measures, but did not provide substantive data or information for the Service to consider at this time.
Those expressing support generally either supported the interim measures as proposed with some minor modifications, or expressed concerns that it was not extensive enough. The varying levels of management suggested ranged from complete closure of the springs to time allotments for visitors.
Some comments that were outside the scope of this Environmental Assessment were not responded to, but were noted for future reference during the formulation of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan. The Service expects to complete that planning effort with the support and input from the community in 2015.
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