Refuge takes action to remain in compliance

BY CHARLOTTE TWINE
Free Press Staff



A crocodile was caught on camera making a nest in April at the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
USFWS/Contributed


KEY LARGO — The staff of the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge is asking for public comment about its scientific research projects through Sept. 9, a procedure that occurs once every 10 years to remain in compliance with federal law.

“The public comment process is an important part of the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Refuge manager Jeremy Dixon.

Since the refuge is owned by the public, the staff is required to get comments on anything involving the management of the property, he explained.

The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a federal agency that must adhere to NEPA and is overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is to administer lands and waters for the conservation, management and restoration of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats.

Crocodile Lake is part of that system and was established in April 1980. It has 6,700 acres, including 650 acres of open water. Habitat types encompass tropical hardwood hammock, mangrove forest and salt marsh, which are home to threatened and endangered wildlife such as crocodiles but also Key Largo woodrats, Key Largo cotton mice, Stock Island tree snails, Schaus’ swallowtail butterflies and eastern indigo snakes, according to Dixon.

The public comment process is specifically seeking feedback about the refuge’s management of research projects. For example, the University of Florida studies crocodiles during hatchling season, and Florida International University is currently conducting research on the tropical hardwood hammock. North Carolina State University is surveying the nest use of Key Largo woodrats, while Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, based out of Miami, comes to study the Key tree cactus and a rare type of tree fern.

“We are some of the last habitat for most of these protected species, so if we lose this refuge we may be losing the species,” said Dixon, who pointed out Crocodile Lake is mostly closed to visitors, though a butterfly garden is open for tourists.

“It’s closed to protect the wildlife,” he said.

Other refuges have to receive public comments as well, but within different time frames depending upon the use. For example, since the National Key Deer Refuge is more open for public use, it only has to solicit comments every 15 years.

Dixon said that once comments are received, he puts them into paperwork to be reviewed, finalized and signed by Fish and Wildlife administrators.

“We get valuable comments out of it,” he said.

To learn more about how to contribute to the public-comment process, go to fws.gov/refuge/crocodile_lake or call Dixon at 305-451-4223 by Sept. 9.


ctwine@keysnews.com