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North Florida Field Office

News Release

For Immediate Release

Date: October 15, 2003
Release # 006-03
Media Contact: Chuck Underwood, 904/731-3332

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks public comment on proposal to withdraw Federal designation of two manatee refuges

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to withdraw its Federal designation at two manatee refuges in Florida. The Service proposal would remove Federal designations of the Pansy Bayou Manatee Refuge in Sarasota County and the Cocoa Beach Manatee Refuge in Brevard County.

The Service officials pointed out that the proposed lifting of the Federal designations would not diminish manatee protection in these areas.

"Our first priority is to protect manatees," said Sam Hamilton, the Service’s southeast regional director. "The Service believes that its original designations were warranted and prudent to prevent take at the time. However, because the State has subsequently implemented comparable protections in these areas, the Service believes it is appropriate to withdraw its Federal designations. Withdrawing the Federal designation will not reduce or eliminate manatee protection in these areas since the State designations will remain in place."

Hamilton also noted that this proposed withdrawal is consistent with the Service’s position regarding State regulatory actions.

"We have long been on record that where overlap of manatee protection occurs and we later find the overlap is comparable to our actions, the Service would consider withdrawing its designation in favor of State or local protection measures," Hamilton said.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush welcomed the withdrawal as indicative of the kind of partnership effort that is essential to manatee conservation.

"I am pleased the USFWS has removed regulations that duplicate Florida's manatee protection efforts," Governor Bush said. "Coordination and partnership between local, state and federal governments, as well as local residents are essential to Florida's continued success in the area of

manatee protection. Florida's commitment to protecting manatees is unwavering and we will continue to take the lead on manatee protection."

Various manatee conservation stakeholders also welcomed the Service’s proposed withdrawal.

According to John Sprague with the Florida Marine Industries Association his organization is pleased to see the Service take this step.

"Eliminating such overlaps in Federal and State manatee protection areas helps reduce the public’s confusion and makes it easier to enforcement," Sprague said. "We appreciate the Service’s support in this effort."

Patti Thompson, Director of Science and Conservation for Save the Manatee Club, noted their organization had no objections to the Service’s proposal at these location.

"In fact, while there are some areas where we believe federal regulations are critically important," Thompson said, "we have always held the position that state and federal agency protections should complement, not duplicate, each other."

Public comments on the proposal are being sought for a 30-day period. Written comments may be emailed, mailed or faxed to the address listed below. Comments must be received by November 21, 2003. Comments sent by regular mail must be postmarked by the closing date. (COMMENT PERIOD CLOSED)

The proposed withdrawal, fact sheet and a list of frequently asked questions are available online at http://www.fws.gov/northflorida. Paper copies may be requested in writing by email to manatee@fws.gov, by fax at 904-232-2404, or by regular mail to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: MPA Withdrawal Rule, 6620 Southpoint Dr., South, Suite 310, Jacksonville, FL 32216-0958.

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 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses more than 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 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.

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Last modified January 14, 2004