FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 4, 2001
For pictures and more information; Florida Manatee
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reached a settlement with a coalition of environmental organizations who filed a lawsuit last January involving the Florida manatee. The environmental organizations filed suit against the Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, charging that the federal agencies were not doing enough to protect the endangered species. The settlement will be made final upon approval by the courts.
Under the terms of the settlement, the Service has agreed to a time frame for completing a number of actions involving manatee conservation. These actions include revising the recovery plan for the manatee, establishing additional Manatee Protection Areas, and developing regulations to allow for take of manatees under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In addition, the Service and the Corps are improving procedures for reviewing permit applications for construction of boating facilities in manatee habitat.
"We are pleased with the terms of the settlement," said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service's Southeast Regional Director. "While we were working on these actions before the lawsuit was filed, the settlement lays out a time frame for completing these tasks. We can now work to implement these protection efforts to help the manatee recover."
Recovery plans are guidance documents prepared by the Service for each federally listed species. The Florida manatee recovery plan identifies the actions necessary to protect the manatee and establishes criteria for determining when the species could be removed from the list of threatened and endangered species. The original Florida manatee recovery plan was produced in 1980 and revised in 1989 and 1996. On December 1, 2000, the Service released a draft revised recovery plan for public comment. This draft revision reflects accomplishments since the last revision, addresses new threats and needs, and specifically addresses the planning requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through 2006.
Manatee Protection Areas include manatee refuges and manatee sanctuaries. Manatee refuges are areas where certain waterborne activities are restricted or prohibited. Sanctuaries are areas in which all waterborne activities are prohibited. The Service has previously established seven manatee sanctuaries in the Crystal River area of Citrus County. The Service has been evaluating the need for additional refuges and sanctuaries for the Florida manatee throughout peninsular Florida and southeast Georgia. An Advance Notice of Proposed Rule-Making, announcing the Service's intent to evaluate and, if appropriate, propose designation of additional manatee protection areas was published in the Federal Register on September 1, 2000.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the taking of protected marine mammals, including manatees. Incidental take of a small number of manatees could be authorized under the Marine Mammal Protection Act if specific regulations are developed that cover specific activities in a defined geographic area.
In establishing such regulations, the Service must determine that the incidental take to be authorized would have a negligible impact on the manatee, and the regulations must identify the measures necessary to minimize the effects of incidental take on the species. The Service has been actively working to develop such regulations for over a year.
While the Corps of Engineers is the Federal agency responsible for permitting the construction of boating facilities in manatee habitat, the Corps must consult with the Service on any actions that may adversely affect a federally-listed species. Improvements to the permit review and consultation process will ensure that the Corps bases decisions regarding the effects of boating facilities it may authorize on the best available information regarding manatees and their habitats and will ensure that the public has an opportunity to provide input to this consultation process.
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 531 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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