January 7, 2016
by Lisa Blanck
Federal wildlife officials want to change the status of Florida’s iconic manatees. According to reports, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to downgrade their classification from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’. A fall 2015 report from the Department of the Interior, the FWS parent agency, has this change listed in the ‘proposed rule stage’; a public hearing on this proposal is scheduled for February 20, in Orlando.
The Department’s report states, “We will reclassify the manatee from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. We believe that a reduction in threats has resulted in an improvement in the species’ status such that the endangered designation may no longer correctly reflect the current status of manatee.”
Michael Edgar, from the FWS, stated, “When aerial surveys first began in 1991 in Florida there were 1,267 manatees and since that time through all the hard work of everyone, those numbers have increased on both coasts. In Florida today we have an estimated of 6,300 manatees.” Conservationists say the decision should not be based on population count, pointing to the more than 2400 manatees killed between 2010 and 2013. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key,agrees with the conservationists, calling the revised proposal “misguided and premature.” In a press release, he stated,
“These gentle giants need our help as hundreds continue to be killed off. The Fish and Wildlife Service decision will only exacerbate this crisis by reducing their protections.”
Buchanan sides with the conservationists in other areas as well. He wrote a letter to President Obama, requesting that the federal government designate critical habitat for the Florida panther, another imperiled animal that is currently facing territory reduction issues from the FWC. First it was the bears, then the panthers, now it’s the manatees whose survival rights are being challenged by Governor Rick Scott’s appointees.
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