April 4, 2003
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today the availability of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that evaluates alternatives for structuring and implementing regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow the incidental, unintentional take of Florida manatees.
The Final EIS analyzes the environmental, social and economic consequences of the Service’s proposed Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) Incidental Take Regulations, and alternatives to the proposed action. Service officials point out that the Final EIS is not a decision document, but does provide the framework from which the Service will make its final decision in May 2003.
"The Final EIS outlines in detail our analysis of two alternatives, one that mirrors our proposed rule for authorizing limited incidental take of manatees in some Florida populations, and a second ‘no action’ alternative that would continue the current absence of take regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act," said Sam Hamilton, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. "During the period between publication of our proposed regulations and today’s document, we have analyzed a significant amount of new data and reviewed thousands of public comments. That data and information have allowed us to set this specific range of alternatives from which we can reach our final decision."
The MMPA authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to allow the incidental taking of small numbers of marine mammals in specific geographic areas if the Secretary finds, based on the best scientific evidence available, that the total of such taking for not more than a five-year period will have a negligible impact on the species. If this finding is made, specific regulations must be established for the activities that set forth permissible methods of taking; means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species and its habitat; and requirements for monitoring and reporting.
"Take," as defined by the MMPA section 3(13), means "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, capture or kill any marine mammal." The act further defines "harassment" as any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which - "1) has the potential to injure a marine mammal...; or 2) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal..." Incidental Take is unintentional or accidental take which might occur during an otherwise lawful activity.
In November of 2002, the Service published a proposed rule that, if finalized, would authorize the incidental take of manatees in certain areas of Florida where take can not now be authorized. The proposed rule is intended to address incidental take of manatees resulting from government activities related to watercraft and watercraft access facilities including: (1) regulating boater behavior on the water (e.g., speed zones); (2) permitting construction of watercraft access facilities (marinas, docks, boat ramps); (3) funding construction of watercraft access facilities; (4) operating watercraft access facilities; and (5) operating watercraft or other activities.
The proposed rule would allow the Service to authorize incidental take in conjunction with these activities for two of the four manatee stocks it identifies. These stocks are located in Northwest Florida and the Upper St. Johns River. The rule would also allow the Service to authorize incidental take on the Atlantic coast of Florida if actions to reduce boater-manatee interactions are implemented. However, the proposed rule would not allow the Service to authorize incidental take in Southwest Florida.
Based on the consideration of new data and public comments provided after the proposed rule was published, the Final EIS analyzes the impact of a potential finding that the total expected takings of Florida manatee during local, State, and Federal government activities related to the operation of watercraft and watercraft access facilities would have a negligible impact on the Upper St. Johns River and Northwest populations and a negligible impact, with the implementation of mitigating measures, for the Atlantic population. For the Southwest population, the Final EIS analyzes the impact of a "negative finding" under the MMPA - that these activities would have more than a negligible impact on the species - and therefore rules out the authorization of incidental take for this population.
The Service could choose either of the two alternatives analyzed in the Final EIS, or a modified version of either. The alternatives themselves will serve as sideboards for the final decision. The Service’s Record of Decision is due to be sent to the Federal Register on or before May 5, 2003.
The Final EIS is available online at http://northflorida.fws.gov. Paper copies of the Final EIS may be requested by writing to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: MMPA FEIS, 6620 Southpoint Dr. South, Suite 310, Jacksonville, FL 32216; by e-mail to email@example.com; or by calling 904-232-2580 ext. 109.
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 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 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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