As a child growing up in Florida, there are a few things that are drilled into your head that forever need saving: Save the Everglades! Save the panthers! Save the mangroves! Save the manatees!
But as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission controversially grapples with new proposed policy that Florida panthers need a little less saving than they used to, a libertarian group is also claiming that manatees also don't need quite the same protection as they once did.
It's crazy times, but also a reflection of the success Florida has had in actually increasing the populations of both species.
Libertarian legal group the Pacific Legal Foundation has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demanding that they remove the gentle sea cows from the endangered species list and instead reclassify them as merely "threatened."
The saga started back in 2005 when the PLF sued the agency to force a review of the status of the manatee and 88 other endangered species. FWS complied and suggested that the manatee should indeed reclassified as threatened, except, well, that never happened. The PLF filed a petition to force the change in 2012 and now has filed a lawsuit.
"Our petition asked the government to follow its own five-year status review recommendation to reclassify the species as threatened," reads a post on PLF's blog. "That recommendation was based on an estimated manatee population of only 3,300. Today, there are over 6,000 manatees in Florida waters. But instead of celebrate the manatee’s improvements and reclassify it accordingly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stalled at every step."
PLF is representing a group known as Save Crystal River, a group of homeowners and businessmen near Crystal River on the west coast of Florida who claim that speed limits in Crystal River and King's Bay, enforced to help protect manatees, hurt tourism and business in the area.
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"Save Crystal River was concerned about the federal government’s growing presence in the community, despite the local government’s own protections for manatees and the manatee’s growing numbers," says PLF, with a libertarian bent, of course. "Save Crystal River had watched the FWS pass unreasonable restrictions elsewhere and its members were worried that if they didn’t hold the government accountable, they would find their community tied up in the same red tape."
FWS says that a decision on the manatee's status is coming, eventually. Hopefully by the end of the year.
"Our progress is extensive, but slow because of workload requirements and other priorities, such as meeting court-approved deadlines under two multi-district litigation settlement agreements (with other groups)," said spokesman Ken Warren, which doesn't necessarily help to disprove libertarian ideas that the federal government is a slow and ineffective system.
Threatened species do not enjoy all the same protections as an endangered species, but FWS still has wide discretion as to which parts of the Endangered Species Act it can evoke to best preserve a threatened species.