February 19, 2015

Manatee population grows while feds dither

By Mark Miller Senior Attorney

The Miami Herald brings news today that the manatees of Florida continue the population surge that the federal Fish & Wildlife Service identified as far back as 2007. Outdoor writer Sue Cocking of the Herald reports:

Manatee conservation is at a crossroads, and the town of Crystal River — located about a 1 1/2-hour drive north of Tampa — is center stage for how the situation will play out.

Last summer, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced it would undertake a year-long review of the manatee’s status to see if it should be reclassified from endangered to threatened. The review was prompted by a petition filed in 2012 by the boating group “Save Crystal River” and the Pacific Legal Foundation arguing that the population is recovering. When the species was listed in 1967, only a few hundred of the creatures swam around Florida’s coastal and inland waters. Today, the population is estimated at over 4,800. Manatee deaths spiked to a record 829 in 2013, blamed mostly on red tide in the Gulf and a toxic algae bloom in east-central Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. But mortality dropped dramatically to 371 last year.

Thank you for the Pacific Legal Foundation shout-out, Miami Herald. But to ensure the clarity of the record, we note that the federal government itself recommended eight years ago that it downlist the manatee from endangered to threatened because the manatee population had surged to 3300 manatees. The report explained in pertinent part:

The current abundance of the species in Florida alone is at about 3,300 animals.

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Therefore, we believe the West Indian manatee no longer meets the definition of an endangered species . . . we believe the West Indian manatee should be classified as threatened.

Eight years later, the manatee population now stands at a much-higher count of 4800, according to the Herald story today. Reason for celebration indeed. Yet the federal government still has not taken its own eight-year old advice to downlist the manatee.

Your tax dollars at work.

Somebody has to hold the federal government’s feet to the fire. That’s why PLF is here. And that’s why we are waiting with bated breath for the approaching end of the government’s year-long review of the manatee, to see if the government will actually follow-through on its own eight-year-old recommendation that it follow the law.

You can read the rest of today’s Miami Herald story here.

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