Change in Status for Manatees

The Pacific Legal Foundation is suing the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to down list from endangered to threatened the manatee species found in the warm waters of Florida and elsewhere on the Atlantic Coast. PLF is a nonprofit watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts nationwide. Their client in this suit is Save Crystal River, Inc., an organization of citizens from Crystal River in Citrus County, Florida, who advocate for property rights and a quality of life that preserves the proper balance between nature and human activity.

In 2007, the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a status review of the West Indian Manatee, the species found in Florida. The review, required every five years by the Endangered Species Act to determine whether a listed species still requires ESA protection, recommended that the West Indian Manatee be down listed from endangered status to threatened. However, the recommendation was never acted upon until now. Apparently, federal officials have been thinking about it and say the process of changing manatees’ classification to threatened will likely begin in late spring or early summer 2013.

Save Crystal River opposes new federal boat speed regulations in Citrus County’s Kings Bay but officials say changing the manatees’ status won’t lead to a rollback of those new rules. The group is also not happy that FWS has moved to effectively take over the entire bay that the City of Crystal River sits on, the 600 acre Kings Bay, because manatees come into the bay for four months of the year. They feel that the threat of onerous federal regulations endangers the fishing industry and the tourist industry.

Manatees have been on the federal endangered list since 1967. At that time they were not classified as endangered because of their numbers but because of the threats they faced from boat strikes and losing their habitat to waterfront development. Manatee advocates say those threats have not diminished with boats killing 88 manatees last year, 83 the year before and a record 97 in 2009. Experts also say that loss of their habitats has gotten worse because many of Florida’s springs, which provide manatees with warmth when winter turns cold, have seen a decrease in flow in the past decade. Cold weather killed 118 manatees last year and a record 282 in 2010.

The process of changing the manatees’ status is occurring at a time when red tide, a deadly algae bloom, has killed 241 manatees in Florida. While the bloom has dissipated the death toll is expected to rise into the spring because the algae bloom’s deadly toxins have settled on the sea grasses that the manatees eat. The figure already surpasses the highest number of red tide manatee deaths on record in Florida, 151 in 1996.

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