|Photo Credit: FWC|
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida -- Attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) filed a lawsuit against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on April 30, 2014 which alleges that FWS improperly lists the manatee as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
PLF says that the agency’s own scientific findings say that the species, found in the warm waters of Florida and elsewhere on the Atlantic Coast, should be “downlisted” to “threatened.
PLF attorneys represent Save Crystal River, Inc., a nonprofit organization of citizens from Crystal River in Citrus County, Florida, who advocate for property and boating that they claim preserves the proper balance between nature and human activity.
“In late 2012, PLF and Save Crystal River submitted a petition for the downlisting of the manatee,” said PLF attorney Christina M. Martin, who is based in PLF’s Atlantic Center office. “But federal officials failed to act. That failure means we must sue to force regulators to do their job.”
“The foot-dragging has continued even though there are more manatees today than when the feds’ own study said the species can and should be downlisted,” Martin continued. “While there have been news reports about a high number of manatee deaths last year, the government has still reported that the species’ population is significantly higher than a decade ago.”
PLF maintains that on January 23, 2014, the FWS published a stock assessment for the West Indian manatee in the Federal Register, which states that the minimum current population estimate for the West Indian manatee is 4,976, including 4,834 Florida manatees (79 Fed. Reg. 3856-57). In contrast, the agency’s 2007 status review for the West Indian manatee (which called for downlisting the species) stated that the “best, current, minimum population estimate” was more than 25 percent lower than at present: 3,300.
In 2007, the FWS conducted a status review of the West Indian manatee, the species found in Florida, which includes the subspecies Florida and Antillean manatee. The purpose of the status review, required every five years by the Endangered Species Act, is for the government to ascertain on a regular basis whether a listed species still requires ESA protection, and if so, to what degree.
The 2007 review recommended that the West Indian manatee should be downlisted from its current endangered status to the status of “threatened.” The review relied heavily upon information provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“It has been seven years since the federal government’s own scientific review signaled that the manatee should be removed from ‘endangered’ status,” said Martin. “But no action has been taken. Everyone who values responsible environmental management should be concerned by this foot-dragging and failure to follow scientific findings. What’s really endangered here is accountability in government and credibility in regulations."
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is still reviewing the PLF petition and plans to make that decision soon. Work on that finding has been delayed due in part to budgetary constraints," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Chuck Underwood said in response to the lawsuit.