USFWS proposes withdrawal of manatee refuges

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed to withdraw its federal designation at two manatee refuges in Florida, the agency reported yesterday.

The agency’s proposal would remove federal designations of the Pansy Bayou Manatee Refuge in Sarasota County and the Cocoa Beach Manatee Refuge in Brevard County, the USFWS stated.

Service officials pointed out that the proposed lifting of the federal designations would not diminish manatee protection in these areas, according to the agency.

"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," said Hamilton.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush expressed his support of the withdrawal.

"I am pleased the USFWS has removed regulations that duplicate Florida's manatee protection efforts. 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," said Governor Bush.

Echoing Governor Bush’s sentiments are various manatee conservation stakeholders who also welcomed the service's proposed withdrawal, according to the USFWS.

The Florida Marine Industries Association also is pleased to see the service take this step, said the FMIA’s John Sprague. "Eliminating such overlaps in federal and state manatee protection areas helps reduce the public's confusion and makes it easier to enforcement. We appreciate the service's support in this effort."

Patti Thompson, director of science and conservation for Save the Manatee Club, stated that the organization had no objections to the service's proposal at these locations.

"In fact, while there are some areas where we believe federal regulations are critically important," said Thompson, "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:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
Attn: MPA Withdrawal Rule
6620 Southpoint Dr., South, Suite 310
Jacksonville, FL 32216-0958
Manatee@fws.gov
(904) 232-2404

Comments must be received by November 21.

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