Trump Puts Florida Manatees and Sea Turtles on "Fast Track to Extinction," Report Says

Since its passage in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has had a real effect. The American alligator, now Florida's state reptile, is one success story. After they were listed, the creatures made such an impressive comeback that they were removed in 1987 and considered fully recovered.

Other Florida animals might not be so lucky. On Tuesday, the Endangered Species Coalition listed the West Indian manatee and the loggerhead sea turtle as two of the top ten species most imperiled by the Trump administration. The authors say climate change severely threatens the habitats where manatees and loggerheads live, and this could eventually lead to extinction.

"Loggerheads, already facing myriad threats from mankind, could lose their fragile beach nesting grounds entirely as sea levels rise and severe storms become the norm," the report notes.

The Endangered Species Coalition calls proposed revisions by Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt — a former oil and coal lobbyist — one of today's biggest threats. The rule changes, which were announced this summer, would reduce protections for threatened species and change the way government designates habitats as "critical" for species' recovery.

"If the Trump Administration has its way, the new regulations will put these species on a fast track to extinction," the coalition's report says.

Anne Harvey Holbrook, staff attorney for Florida's Save the Manatee Club, says manatees already face numerous challenges after being downgraded from "endangered" to "threatened" in 2017 and then hit with a catastrophic red tide and a record number of boat-related deaths this year.

"It’s a tough time to be a manatee," she says. "It’s a bit of a perfect storm."

Also on Tuesday, the Trump administration denied act protections for 13 rare species, including four that live in Florida. The announcement was a blow to environmentalists who had petitioned for the Cedar Key mole skink, the MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow, the striped newt, and the Florida sandhill crane to be designated as threatened or endangered.

"This is clearly politically motivated on the Trump administration's part," says Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This is an administration adamantly and vocally opposed to environmental protections."

The denials issued by Trump's Department of Interior include some odd justifications. For example, is the spotting of Florida sandhill cranes on golf courses really evidence the species is doing just fine?

"Its demonstrated ability to adapt to and use agricultural and suburban habitats (e.g., croplands, pastures, golf courses, recreational areas) for breeding, nesting, and feeding activities help ensure its resiliency into the future," the memo notes.

A similar rationale is cited for the MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow and the Cedar Key mole skink. The argument seems to be that since the species appear to have adapted to changing climates, we should all just wait and see how things play out.

Although there's no appeals process to the denials, Greenwald says the Center for Biological Diversity will likely challenge some of the rulings in court.

"Most scientists think we're in an extinction crisis," he tells New Times. "It’s very concerning to see the administration's head-in-the-sand approach to the Endangered Species Act."
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.