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Manatees -Lose State Endangered Status

Old 11-18-2003, 03:43 PM
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Default Manatees -Lose State Endangered Status

Manatees About To Lose State Endangered Status
By MIKE SALINERO [email protected]
Published: Nov 18, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - As boats and shoreline development continue to take a toll on Florida's manatees, the state is poised to downgrade its protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is expected Wednesday to reclassify the marine mammals as threatened, rather than endangered. The commission was prompted to re-evaluate the manatee's status when a leading sport fishermen's group petitioned for reclassification.

Manatees will retain their endangered status on the federal list.

But the state's move is frightening to conservation groups that see it as the first step in dismantling special manatee protections won in years of court battles. The conservationists insist manatees are still under continual assault and far from recovered as a species.

Although state and federal protection has resulted in an increase in manatees in some parts of the state, the two largest populations in Southwest Florida and along the Atlantic Coast are most likely on the decline, said Suzanne Tarr, a biologist with the Save the Manatee Club.

Despite its continued listing as federally endangered, Tarr and other advocates say the state's reclassification will mislead the public into believing the rare marine mammals no longer swim in the shadow of possible extinction.

In a state where the manatee's image is emblazoned on tens of thousands of license plates, such a shift in public perception could weaken the political clout that conservation groups have used to prevent legislative attempts to roll back manatee protections.

``I think it's very important that the public not have the perception the species has recovered, when in actuality the science is showing just the opposite is true,'' said Patti Thompson, director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club.

Thompson points out that even state biologists predict the manatee population will decline 50 percent during the next 45 years.

Boating and fishing groups, on the other hand, applaud the reclassification. They say it validates what they see every day on the water: growing numbers of manatees.

``Guides and recreational fishermen who have been fishing Florida waters for the last 30 years are all of the same opinion: There are more manatees out there now than there were 30 years ago,'' said Ted Forsgren, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida.

Numbers Hard To Pin Down

Forsgren points to state manatee counts that show Tampa Bay's population growing from 88 in 1985 to 385 last year.

The official numbers have varied widely from year to year.

Guesstimates made in the 1970s, before aerial surveys began in 1991, placed the manatee population at fewer than 1,000.

The record high of nearly 3,300 in 2001, was followed by a count of 1,796 in 2002, when warm conditions and murky water hampered the search. With this year's optimum conditions, there were 415 fewer manatees counted than two years before.

Several marine scientists who were asked to review the wildlife commission's biological assessment also criticized the state's method of counting the animals.

The only discernible trend is in manatee mortality, with the number of dead manatees found in Florida waters rising steadily since record-keeping began in 1974. Boats are killing record numbers, which has prompted the speed restrictions that have rankled marine interests.

Protections Unchanged

Forsgren's group represents sports fishermen throughout the state. He said his members don't want to abolish all manatee sanctuaries and slow- speed zones, but they do want future boating restrictions ``based on science.''

``We believe the manatee is not an endangered species; it's a special animal that deserves special protection,'' Forsgren said. ``But that doesn't include some of the draconian measures touted by groups like the Save the Manatee Club.''

Conservationists say the state criteria for listing a species as endangered is not appropriate for a long-lived mammal like the manatee. To be listed as endangered, there has to be a probability the manatee population would decline 80 percent in three generations, or 45 years.

``A species has to be pretty well extinct before it can be listed as endangered,'' Tarr said.

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Henry Cabbage said the reclassification is unlikely to change the level of protection given manatees.

``The listing is really a scorecard to keep track of how well we're doing in helping this species recover,'' Cabbage said. ``The amount of protection the state gives doesn't depend on how it's classified; it depends on what the animal's needs are.''

Meanwhile, the federal wildlife agency is doing its own review of the manatee's status as an endangered species. Agency spokesman Chuck Underwood said the review won't be finished until next year.

Underwood said it is unlikely the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will lessen its protection plans for manatees if they are down-listed.

The agency has incurred the wrath of boaters and waterfront developers for holding up permits for new docks and marinas and for instituting slow-speed zones in areas where manatee mortality is high, such as Southwest Florida. The federal agency instituted the protections in order to settle a federal lawsuit brought by the Save the Manatee Club.

``Based on the data we have today, we think the population is doing OK in some areas, not so good in other areas,'' Underwood said.

Reporter Mike Salinero can be reached at (850) 222-8382.
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Old 11-18-2003, 03:49 PM
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Finally, a step in the right direction.
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Old 11-18-2003, 04:15 PM
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Yummm! Tastes like chicken!
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Old 11-18-2003, 04:28 PM
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Woo Hoo!!! Wide fizucking open through the manatee zones!!!

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Old 11-18-2003, 05:53 PM
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The next step is to get them classified as "hazards to navigation".
Retired! Boating full-time now.
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Old 11-18-2003, 06:05 PM
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Originally posted by C_Spray
The next step is to get them classified as "hazards to navigation".
LOL! I like that!
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Old 11-18-2003, 08:03 PM
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