Conservation

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Refuge conservation plans are called “comprehensive conservation plans” (CCPs).

  • Comprehensive Conservation Plan

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    Refuge conservation plans are called “comprehensive conservation plans” (CCPs). The purpose of a CCP is to specify a management direction for the Refuge for the next 15 years. The goals, objectives, and strategies for improving Refuge conditions—including the types of habitat we will provide, partnership opportunities, and management actions needed to achieve desired conditions – are described in the CCP. The Service’s preferred alternative for managing the Refuge and its effects on the human environment, are described in the CCP as well.

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  • National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act

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    National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997: The NWRS Improvement Act defines a unifying mission for all refuges, including a process for determining compatible uses on refuges, and requiring that each refuge be managed according to a CCP. The NWRS Improvement  Act expressly states that wildlife conservation is the priority of System lands and that the Secretary shall ensure that the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of refuge lands are maintained. Each refuge must be managed to fulfill the specific purposes for which the refuge was established and the System mission. The first priority of each refuge is to conserve, manage, and if needed, restore fish and wildlife populations and habitats according to its purpose.

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  • Backcountry Management Plan

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    The Backcountry Management Plan was developed following the dramatic increase in residential growth and tourism in the Florida Keys in the 1980s, which resulted in a rise in recreational and commercial use of the nearshore marine waters surrounding refuge islands and associated activities on the islands themselves. The growing popularity of shallow-draft vessels, particularly personal watercraft (also known as waverunners or jet skis), made previously inaccessible shallow water areas and tidal flats susceptible to adverse impacts caused by an increasing number of people in the backcountry. That led to an alarming rise in wildlife-human interactions, involving disruption of roosting, foraging, and nesting activities by birds and sea turtles for which the National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) were originally established to protect. 

    The Backcountry Management Plan was signed in 1992. It is an agreement between State of Florida and USFWS. The plan grants USFWS the authority to manage certain State submerged lands and waters to minimize impacts of expanding public uses on wildlife and wilderness values.

    To curtail such impacts while also allowing traditional water-based activities such as fishing, boating, and diving, vessel exclusion zones were designated throughout Key West NWR and most of Great White Heron NWR where personal watercraft (jetskis), airboats, water skiing, hovercraft, and aircraft landings are prohibited. Special buffer zones with idle speed, no motor, or no entry areas were also established near sensitive wildlife habitat. These zones are identified as Wildlife Management Areas. 

    The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1990. The boundaries of the Sanctuary encompasses the entire Florida Keys ecosystem, all four Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges are contained within the boundary. The Sanctuary recognizes Florida Keys NWRs as “Existing Management Areas” and incorporates the Backcountry Management Plan’s restricted areas into sanctuary zones known as “Wildlife Management Areas”

    For a list of backcountry islands classified as Wildlife Management Areas, visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's Marine Zoning and Regulatory Review website. If you are a boater, this is a great place to find information on specific island idle speed, no motor or no entry areas.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex is currently partnering with NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in a multi-year process to review management issues and zoning within the Sanctuary boundaries. We are reviewing the Backcountry Management Plan as an ongoing part of this process. This review will inform decisions for future management of the backcountry islands. For a look at where we are in this review, check out NOAA's timeline of the process.

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