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Frequently Asked Questions about CWAs

A: CWA stands for Critical Wildlife Area. CWAs are established by the FWC under the Florida Administrative Code to protect wildlife from human disturbance at sites where they congregate to nest, rest or feed. The landowner of each site must support the CWA designation before it can be considered for establishment.

A: CWAs are designed to provide needed conservation for Florida’s most vulnerable wildlife. CWAs are sites where species gather daily or seasonally for critical life activities, such as breeding, feeding or resting. CWAs are also sites where it has been documented that human activities were interfering with these activities. Simply put, the species at these sites were not getting the space they needed to recover, replenish, or reproduce. Examples of CWAs include caves, tree islands, sandbars, and beaches.

A: Yes. In 2010, the FWC reviewed the status of all state-listed shorebirds, seabirds and wading birds. Biological review groups including FWC scientists and other experts found that the little blue heron, tricolored heron, reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, American oystercatcher, black skimmer, least tern and snowy plover all met the criteria for listing as state threatened species. This was based on data showing decline in populations for each of these species. In addition, the piping plover, red knot, roseate tern, and wood stork are federally listed under the Endangered Species Act.

A: Yes, there are a number of studies related to bird disturbance. A study by Rodgers and Smith published in Conservation Biology in 1995 recommended a setback distance of 100 meters (approximately 328 feet) for wading bird colonies.

A: When establishing a CWA, the FWC considers a number of factors and develops regulations that are both balanced and effective. For example, it is important that the buffers do not impede on navigation channels or the channel right of way. In addition the FWC works to minimize the impacts on people enjoying Florida’s waterways while still providing conservation benefits for species in need.

A: No. There are many sites that have some amount of bird nesting that the FWC does not include in CWA establishments. The FWC focuses on the priority sites based on wildlife use and other factors.

A: Any site considered for CWA designation must support significant numbers of sensitive species. In addition, human disturbance issues should be well documented, the site must be accessible for management and the landowner must support the designation.

A: CWA closures vary depending on wildlife use at each site. Some CWAs have seasonal closures primarily for nesting, feeding or migration, while other CWAs may warrant a year-round closure depending on wildlife activity and needs. If a CWA is no longer used by wildlife, the site may not be posted and may be considered for disestablishment.

A: No, CWAs can provide protection for any site that supports a significant concentration of wildlife. For example, the FWC established a CWA in the Withlacoochee State Forest that consists of 6 caves for the protection of bats.

A:  Monitoring of CWAs is conducted in partnership with other agencies, organizations and volunteer groups. Monitoring protocols are designed to document the species present, numbers of individuals and activities (e.g. nesting, roosting) that are observed over time.

A: Monitoring data is used to determine if the area is still important to maintain as a CWA. For example, cave bat surveys in 2005-2006 and in 2011 led to the disestablishment of Jennings Cave, a site no longer suitable for bat use.

A: Any law enforcement officer can enforce the posted boundaries of a CWA. Law enforcement officers often take the opportunity to educate people about the CWA boundaries and regulations before issuing a formal warning or citation. A violation is a second-degree misdemeanor with up to $500 fine or a maximum of 60 days in jail. 

A: Yes, the authority to “disestablish” CWAs has been delegated to the Executive Director. In the past, the FWC has disestablished the following CWAs: Red Lake CWA in Sarasota Co., McGill Island CWA in Manatee Co., Jennings Cave CWA in Marion Co., and Anclote Islands CWA in Pasco and Pinellas counties. In addition, there are currently CWAs that are not posted, and therefore there are no restrictions to the public. These areas are not posted because erosion has reduced or eliminated the habitat needed by wildlife. FWC staff continue to monitor these sites.

A: No. CWAs are an effective conservation tool for the protection of all wildlife.  All the bird species that are found on CWAs are protected under the federal migratory bird treaty act. However, many are not listed as threatened or imperiled. Taking steps to protect important nesting and roosting sites will not only help recover those species that are imperiled, but just as importantly, they will help ensure that other species will not decline to a point where they must be listed.

A: Yes. Many CWAs are included in the Great Florida Birding Trail and offer safe viewing areas for photography and wildlife viewing.