Ask any Floridians a Family Feud-style query of "Name things we should protect," and they'll instinctually shout back at you "Manatees." Along with Florida panthers, those plump little sea cows are practically synonymous with endangered species in the state. We're brought up from a young age with a general sense that they need to be saved.
Well, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn't so sure they should be considered endangered species anymore, and has taken the first step towards reclassifying them as merely threatened. The move was spurred by a petition and lawsuit from the Pacific Legal Foundation, a pro-business law firm with a particular interest in deregulating environmental laws that they feel infringe on people's property rights. It's the same law firm that successfully fought to have the Bald Eagle removed from the endangered species list.
The PFL is representing an organization called Save Crystal River. That group is basically concerned with boating restrictions in Kings' Bay in Crystal River. Their website indicates they believe that as many as 1,400 manatees could be living in Kings' bay in the next 10 to 15 years, and that the manatee population has recovered to the point that it no longer be considered threatened.
"They're trying to keep the government honest and have the government acknowledge the progress that manatees have made," Christina M. Martin, an attorney for PFL told The Sun-Sentinel. "They are afraid of the potential that they couldn't use the bay at all, that they couldn't fish or put down an anchor."
Crystal River, located off the coast of Citrus County Florida, runs between the Florida mainland and a small collection of islands. Before it feeds into the Gulf of Mexico it runs through Kings Bay, and basically locals are concerned that all of the bay could be turned into a manatee sanctuary that would require all boats traveling through to remain at idle speeds. That would slow down boaters' trips to the Gulf.
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The Fish and Wildlife Service will now conduct a status review to see if manatees still meet the requirements for endangered status.
A reclassification would have no immediate effect on regulations like no-speed zones and development restrictions that are in place to protect the animals, but some worry that a reclassification would make it easier to challenge those laws in court.