LEE COUNTY, Fla. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is developing an emergency rule to designate five key locations in Lee County, Fla. as federal manatee protection areas, the USFWS said in a statement today.
The USFWS said it has taken this action because of a recent Florida Circuit Court ruling, overturning "critically important," state-designated manatee conservation zones in Lee County.
The areas affected by this emergency designation are in Matlacha Pass, Estero Bay, southwest side of Pine Island, eastern San Carlos Bay and the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River – all in the same general vicinity where a manatee was found dead of watercraft inflicted wounds this weekend near Pine Island, the USFWS said.
"Manatees are concentrated during this time of the year in the Caloosahatchee River," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast regional director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "As the water temperature warms, manatees will soon be moving down river into these areas in greater numbers. We have watched as the local government debate the merits of implementing county zones. Regrettably, it does not appear that these solutions will come in time."
"The service considers these areas to be very important for the conservation of manatees in this region of southwest Florida," the release stated. "[It] will exercise its authority to establish manatee protection areas as provided for in the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. The emergency designations for these areas will be in place for up to 120 days from date of publication in the Federal Register."
While the emergency designations are in place, the USFWS said it would simultaneously propose regulations to make these federal designations permanent. The proposal will allow an opportunity for public comment.
"In the meantime, our hope is that the state zones will be reinstated by the court system and the need for federal action will no longer be necessary," Hamilton said.
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