FWC using public input to improve ‘critical wildlife area’ proposals

September 16, 2016
By Marcy Shortuse

Layout 1 (Page 2)BY MARCY SHORTUSE – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is still pursuing a ban on boating and fishing around some of the islands to the south of us after announcing the public “largely supported” the effort.
Modifications to five “critical wildlife areas” in Southwest Florida, including the islands of Useppa, Sanibel/Captiva, Hemp Key and the Broken Islands, were discussed at the recent public workshops held at Rookery Island on August 8, Pine Island Sound on August 9 and Estero Bay on August 10.
FWC staff said they did receive some unfavorable comments, and they slightly modified a few of the CWA proposals to accommodate those concerns.
“The proposed CWAs constitute high-octane, quiet conservation. They are patches of protection in a sea of opportunity,” said FWC Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski. “The narrowly tailored and discreet designations will help with reproduction and recruitment for significant bird species on our threatened list.”
Over the years, bird activity has shifted around on Broken Islands and Useppa. Increased use of Rookery Bay has led to increased disturbance of birds on these islands. The re-establishment proposal calls for expanding to include other islands within Rookery Bay. This would allow for closure of other islands as bird activity shifts. However, at this time, only the island with the greatest amount of use would be closed with a 300-foot buffer.
The FWC is also considering a seasonal closure and boating buffer for Broken Islands and Useppa Oyster Bar. They are also considering a year-round closure and 150-foot buffer around Hemp Key.
Buffers around nesting islands typically range from 50 to 300 feet and are established to provide adequate separation between people and birds. If approved, the buffers will be posted with in-water signs to provide proper notification for boaters.
The workshops were designed to help Florida residents understand what CWAs are and how they impact our environment.The islands in question to our south are places where birds, both common and endangered, often breed and feed. Some of the birds are year-round residents; others are here only on a migratory basis. CWAs are established by the FWC under a Florida Administrative Code rule to protect important wildlife concentrations.
“Often our enthusiasm to see these birds in large concentration is the very thing that causes the disturbance,” said Yablonski. “These are Florida’s signature bird species. They are the great wildlife ambassadors of Florida, and we owe them this small measure of protection.”
If you would like to provide feedback, send it to CWAcomments@MyFWC.com. The specific CWA name should be included in the subject line of the email.
The final decision regarding the CWAs will be made at the November Commission meeting in St. Petersburg.
For more information on CWAs, visit MyFWC.com/CWA.
Yablonski said the FWC will continue to move forward with an unprecedented initiative to conserve some of Florida’s most vulnerable wildlife by designating and modifying critical wildlife areas throughout Florida.