Three Sisters Springs

June 18, 2017.  The following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

The picture of Three Sisters Springs on the front page of Sunday’s Chronicle and Monday’s related article reminded me of last month’s vote by the Crystal River City Council to assume management of the adjacent property from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if the two entities couldn’t agree on a new management plan within a six-month period.

Since then, President Trump has released next year’s budget request proposing a $10.4 million reduction for the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the USFWS, including $2.1 million for visitor services.  He also proposes cuts of $13.2 million in the National Wildlife Refuge Fund, $34.1 million in the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund and $7.8 million in the agency’s construction budget.

How these cuts would affect funding and staffing at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Three Sisters Springs and adjoining Three Sisters Springs property is unclear.

The USFWS has asserted that the expenditure of $1 million in its budget earmarked for improvements on the property is contingent on it retaining its lead management role.

In the interest of transparency, the USFWS should identify the source of this funding and specify what language it has received providing direction on how and when this money should be used.  What related language is included in USFWS budget documents?  What will happen to this funding if the city assumes management of the property?

Local USFWS officials should also explain how the recent decision to down-list the manatee from Endangered to the less restrictive Threatened status might further impact its management program on the refuge and property.

In the absence of such information, how can city officials make an informed decision relative to assuming management of the property?

If the city and USFWS cannot renegotiate a mutually acceptable agreement outlining shared management roles, responsibilities and obligations, resulting in the loss of critical funding, what would be the plan for providing improvements on the property, and how would they be funded?

For anyone interested, the mentioned USFWS budget be accessed at https://www.doi.gov/budget/appropriations/2018/highlights.

Gary Rankel, Citrus Hills, Florida