U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent's mantra to slow down is aimed at the wrong crowd. He should address careless boaters and ill-informed tourists, not government regulators.
Last week, the Brooksville Republican, whose 5th Congressional District includes Hernando and much of Pasco counties, offered an appropriations bill amendment blocking funding for a permanent manatee refuge in all of Kings Bay in Citrus County.
Coming just a week after the tea party's goofy pronouncement that the manatee protection plan was part of an international conspiracy, Nugent's budget maneuvering comes across as irresponsible pandering to an uninformed fringe.
Nugent says that is not the case and he told Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt he wanted to "slow it down a second. Let's have some input from county leaders,'' pointing to objections from Citrus County's business community and elected government officials.
Slow it down? They should be speeding it up. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered the rule on an emergency basis in November after seven manatees died from boat-related injuries in Kings Bay in summer 2010 — more than double the number of fatalities from the previous decade. The permanent federal protection plan would greatly restrict boat speeds in the waterway and curb reckless tourists from physically interfering with the sea cows' normal activities. It's overdue and came after years of lobbying from environmental groups.
Kings Bay is a refuge to the endangered marine mammals drawn to its natural spring 72-degree waters. As many as 500 seek out the Kings Bay refuge in the winter, enticing more than 100,000 people to the area to see them. The federal proposal recognizes that tourism relationship and would allow human contact with the mammals via simple petting. But, it also prohibits the inappropriate interaction that triggered the need for the expanded refuge in the first place. Too often, tourists ignorantly harass manatees with pokes, prods, and illegal attempts to hitch a ride on the slow-moving, docile creatures.
Federal intervention is needed because the pubic has been unable to respect one of Florida's endearing natural assets. Nugent should get out of the way and let the Fish and Wildlife Service do its job protecting the manatees from habitat interlopers.