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September 13, 2000


Tom MacKenzie, Deputy, External Affairs 404/ 679-7291

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its final Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, seven miles west of Boynton Beach, Florida. This 147,392- acre refuge, all that remains of the northern Everglades in Palm Beach County, is home to some federally and state listed species including the Everglades snail kite and the wood stork. Because the refuge is situated in the Atlantic flyway, 116 species of neotropical migrants pass through there, and another 182 neotropical migrants breed in the area. The refuge also hosts several waterfowl and shorebird species.

In 1951, the then 143,238-acre refuge was established as an overlay of Water Conservation Area 1 through a license agreement between the agency that is now the South Florida Water Management District and the Service. This land, now referred to as the refuge "interior," is owned by the State of Florida but managed by the Service. The Service owns 2,550 acres to the east and west of the refuge interior.

"At Loxahatchee, we will emphasize managing the unique northern Everglades' habitat to preserve it for future generations," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director. "We will also offer public activities that are compatible with our 'wildlife first' mandate, such as wildlife observation, photography, kayaking, poleboating, hiking, hunting, and fishing."

The refuge's Comprehensive Conservation Plan provides a clear statement regarding the future management of the refuge over the next 15 years and ensures that the refuge's management actions are consistent with refuge purposes and the mandates of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

It will:

Reduce exotic and invasive plants;

Enhance and develop partnerships to ensure an appropriate water regulation schedule (quality, delivery, and timing), as well as ensuring proper water quality for the benefit of wildlife and habitats of the northern Everglades;

Expand the inventory and monitoring of wildlife species and habitats;

Enhance wildlife habitat for migratory and resident birds; and,

Expand appropriate and compatible wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities.

Effective water management, including water quality, quantity, timing, and delivery considerations, is critical to achieve the vision for the refuge. To these ends, developing progressive partnerships with the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is of utmost importance.

"We have a refuge in peril due to the threats of melaleuca, Old World climbing fern, and a host of other invasive and exotic species," said Refuge Manager Mark Musaus. According to Musaus, a variety of means will be used to control their spread, including the use of biocontrols. Fire will be used to simulate the historic Everglades ecosystem, enhance wildlife habitat, and as a tool for controlling cattails where they have become invasive.

Development of inventory, monitoring, and analysis capabilities is also essential to managing a refuge, especially one of this size. "Similar to managing a store, it is difficult to manage it if you don't know what you have," said Senior Refuge Biologist Dr. Laura Brandt.

Public comments on the Draft Plan indicated that fish and wildlife and their environment is of utmost importance in the management of the refuge. These comments are consistent with the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, which states that wildlife must have first priority in refuge management. Recreation and other uses can be provided as long as these uses are appropriate and compatible with wildlife conservation.

The Comprehensive Conservation Plan provides increased opportunities for public use that are appropriate and compatible with the "wildlife first" mandate. Visitor services at the Headquarters Area and Strazzulla Marsh will include interpretive trails, a boardwalk (or extension), and observation towers. The existing canoe trail will be extended and include overnight camping platforms. A concession will be developed at the Hillsboro Area. Hunting accessibility and the number of huntable species, including feral hogs and alligators by limited permit, will also be increased. The environmental education program will be enhanced as well to showcase northern Everglades ecology and human influence on the southeast Florida ecosystem.

Vital to the successful implementation of this plan is the license agreement between the South Florida Water Management District and the Service. In addition, the Service will seek to enhance existing partnerships and develop new ones with government agencies, interest groups, landowners, and others in the community.

For a free copy of the plan or a summary, please contact Mark J. Musaus, Refuge Manager, A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, 10216 Lee Road, Boynton Beach, FL 33437-4796, or call (561) 732-3684. Copies of these documents will be ready for distribution on October 6, 2000. In the meantime, these documents can be obtained at the website address: http://loxahatchee.fws.gov

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 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands
of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 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.

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2000 News Releases

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