During an informal signing ceremony, Jacksonville District Commander Col. Alan Dodd added his name to a cooperative agreement along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Florida field office supervisors to help manatees and insure the Corps' navigation mission moves forward.
The group used the authority provided in the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to develop a cooperative agreement which provides both agencies flexibility when developing real world solutions to help the manatee in the face of growing pressure.
Fortunately, the Florida manatee, a listed endangered species endemic to the waters of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, has seen significant rise in its population over the past 10-years. In Florida, the manatee population is up to 5,000 individuals from fewer than 1,000 in the late 80's and early 90's.
The population surge is the result of state and federal manatee protection efforts which began in earnest in the late 1980's and 1990's. The federal recovery effort is led by USFWS Field Chief David Hankla, who signed the joint agreement with Dodd during the ceremony.
"Sound protection strategies backed up with good management decisions by the Corps and our state partners have contributed to the rise in the population,” said Hankla. “But the Florida manatee still has a ways to go before it can be deemed as recovered."
The event signals the first time a district in the South Atlantic region has entered into an agreement on the manatee; and it shows the strength of the partnership between the two agencies.
"We have a great relationship with the Fish and Wildlife Service. They recognize the value in developing creative solutions which both protect and promote listed species while assuring the Corps' mission moves forward. This agreement provides a framework to enable creative decision making where the current processes do not," said Eric Summa, chief of the Environmental Branch.
The USFWS and the Corps have entered into this agreement as a pilot with the potential to expand its applicability to districts on the outer edges of the manatee's current home range such as Savannah, Mobile, and Galveston Districts.