Manatee zones under fire in Florida

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Five manatee boat speed zones in South Florida were erased Tuesday and two North Florida counties plan to sue the federal government over two manatee protection zones they feel are too restrictive to boaters, according to stories in the Miami Herald and Ft. Myers News Press today.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission lost its request for a hearing to overturn a December ruling that said five state manatee speed zones near Ft. Myers were unconstitutional, while North Florida’s Duval and Clay counties mailed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if the zones in their area are not withdrawn within two months, the stories said.

The regulations in North Florida, announced by the federal government in August for boaters in the St. Johns River in Duval County and on Doctors Lake in Clay County, have been the focus of ongoing discussions.

”While the city and the county are willing to discuss the matter further, the service should be aware that fruitless dialogue cannot go on forever,” the notice of intent said.

”What they’ve done is essentially shut down a major part of our river and there’s no scientific data to support that,” Jacksonville City Councilwoman Lynette Self told the Miami Herald.

South Florida zones

In the South Florida case, the commission was contesting a ruling from last year that said the science used to set up five manatee speed zones in its area was unsound because endangered manatees do not frequent these areas enough to warrant special protection.

But while the court’s refusal to overturn the earlier decision means the five zones no longer exist under the state jurisdiction, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has said it intends to take over the zones and enforce them, according to the News Press.

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