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Florida agency approves 'critical wildlife areas' around the state

State wildlife commissioners on Nov. 16, 2016 approved creating new "critical wildlife areas," including six caves in the Withlacoochee State Forest in Citrus County. The caves are home to several species of bats like the one pictured here. Some of the caves are fenced off and closed to protect the bats while they are hibernating and breeding, but people still sneak in, officials say. The new designation would give law enforcement a way to keep humans away.
Published Nov. 16, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — State wildlife commissioners on Wednesday approved creating new "critical wildlife areas" off-limits to humans or expanding existing ones in 13 areas.

These designated areas protect places where wildlife congregates to breed, nest, roost and feed. In the Tampa Bay area, new critical wildlife areas are the Dot-Dash-Dit Islands at the mouth of the Braden River in Manatee county, home to the bay area's only coastal colony of wood storks, and six caves in the Withlacoochee State Forest in Citrus County that are home to several species of bats.

The list also includes expanding an existing critical wildlife area in Hillsborough County known as the Alafia Banks. Managed by Audubon, the Alafia Banks property is a nesting area for 16 species, including reddish egret, roseate spoonbill and American oystercatcher.

The approval came during a meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is convening this week at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Designating a sensitive environmental spot gives law enforcement an added tool, officials say. Officers can give someone a ticket for trespassing.

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