Species is back from the brink, in a big way in Florida
This week the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the downlisting of the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened. Notable increases in manatee populations and improvements in its habitat allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to change the species’ status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The downlisting comes after diverse conservation efforts and collaborations by Florida and other manatee states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Caribbean nations, public and private organizations and citizens have resulted in increases in manatee populations and improvements in its habitat.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has worked hand in hand with state and local governments, businesses, industry, and countless stakeholders over many years to protect and restore a mammal that is cherished by people around the world,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Without this type of collaboration and the commitment of state and local partners, this downlisting would not have been possible.”
“We are gladdened by this proper step forward, even as we are dismayed that it has taken so long to accomplish,” said Robert Atkins, president of Citizens for Florida’s Waterways (CFFW), a Brevard-county based group advocating for recreational boaters. “Politics and fear of lawsuits are what caused the delay.”
Reclassification of manatees has been pending since 2007, when the USFWS first announced its intention to move manatees from the endangered list — meaning they were in imminent danger of extinction — to the “threatened” list, meaning they possibly could become at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future.
Atkins notes that delaying the decision longer than the decade it has taken would be a disservice to the integrity of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The people must have faith in the honest assessment of government agencies, he asserts. In this case, Atkins emphasizes that the best available science confirms there is zero chance of manatee extinction over the next 100 years.
“Manatees should actually be classed as a ‘recovered’ species — meaning they are neither endangered nor threatened, and not listed within the ESA,” he stated.
You can read more about the manatee population boom in the April issue of Florida Sportsman.