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Rep. Vern Buchanan's bill to protect the Little Manatee River clears its first hurdle

Rep. Vern Buchanan's office

Little Manatee River could gain protections by being designated as "scenic" under a measure in Congress, and the legislation has passed its first crucial hurdle.

The 51-mile segment of the river begins in southeastern Hillsborough County and flows downstream into Tampa Bay.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, sponsors the bill, called The Little Manatee Wild and Scenic River Act — or HR 4358.

“Protecting Florida’s beautiful lands and pristine waterways will remain one of my top priorities,” Buchanan said in a press release. “Designating the Little Manatee River as ‘scenic’ will ensure that it is kept in its current, pristine condition for future generations to enjoy.”

So far, the measure has passed the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, which amended the bill to authorize a formal National Park Service study of the river before an official designation can occur.

The designation would add Little Manatee River to the National Park Service’s Wild and Scenic River System, whose primary goal is to conserve free-flowing rivers across the United States, according to a press release. The bill would also keep recreational activities available, like canoeing, kayaking, boating and fishing.

“From canoeing and fishing for bass or panfish upriver to skiing and fishing for various saltwater species downriver, this natural treasure has much to offer in terms of recreation and scenic beauty. I have spent a lifetime enjoying all that this river has to offer and my hope is to see it preserved for many more generations of Hillsborough County residents to enjoy. We are blessed to have such a beautiful river right in our own backyard,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White said in a press release.

Manatee County Commissioner At Large Carol Whitmore also said she’s “ecstatic.”

“The Little Manatee River is one of the most beautiful natural rivers in the area. The outstanding scenic, recreational, fish and wildlife attributes should be protected for future generations,” Whitmore said in a press release.

If the river gets formally added to the National Park Service’s Wild and Scenic River System, the National Park Service would collaborate with local government officials to develop a management plan, which must include how the existing natural environment will be preserved while incorporating public use.

The legislation needs approval from the full House and Senate before going to the president's desk for a signature.

Copyright 2022 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media, and former reporter and host of All Things Considered for WGCU News.