Fla. Manatees No Longer Endangered

Published August 1, 2006

In a move embodying the success of recent protection efforts and new state standards regarding species in decline, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously on June 7 to remove the manatee from the state’s endangered species list. The commission also voted that day to remove the bald eagle from a list of “species of special concern.”

Manatee Numbers Climbing

In public hearings prior to its vote, the commission noted more than 3,100 manatees now live in Florida, up from roughly 1,200 in 1991. Moreover, computer modeling indicates no chance of the species going extinct during the next 100 years.

“I believe the manatee has recovered,” commission chairman Rodney Barretto told the press after the vote. “We should be rejoicing.”

Protections Remain

The Florida decision to downgrade the manatee from “endangered” to “threatened” will not result in any reduction in the level of protection afforded manatees, according to the commission. For example, very stringent speed restrictions on boats plying coastal waters will remain unchanged.

The effect of the reclassification is to list manatees accurately within the state’s species listing criteria. All species listed as “endangered,” “threatened,” or “of special concern” receive protection plans tailored to their particular needs. Any time a species is added or removed from the lists or changes status, the commission reevaluates and drafts appropriate protection plans tailored to the new developments.

“We’ve made this process science-based,” explained commission spokesman Willie Puz in the June 7 Miami Herald. “We are able to look specifically at one species and tailor a plan to meet that species’ specific needs.”

The endangered status of manatees under the federal Endangered Species Act will not change.

Bald Eagles Thriving

Also on June 7, the commission voted to remove the bald eagle from the “species of special concern” list. Prior to its vote, the commission reported there are currently more than 1,100 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the state, up from less than 100 nesting pairs 30 years ago.

“What we’re doing for eagles is working,” commission executive director Ken Haddad said in a June 7 news release. “That’s good news. Our goal is for all imperiled species to recover to the point where we can remove them from the list.”

As with the downgrading of the manatee, the change in status of the bald eagle will not leave the species unprotected in the state, as the law requires that a new management plan be developed. In addition, the eagle will continue to be protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Act.

New Standards Working

The significant improvement in manatee and bald eagle numbers reflects ongoing success achieved under recent changes in Florida’s species listing process. In April 2005, seeking to ensure listing decisions are made according to science rather than emotional public relations campaigns, Florida scrapped its preexisting, subjective listing process and enacted standards closely mirroring those of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The IUCN has as a stated goal “to influence, encourage, and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.”

IUCN members include 82 nations, 111 government agencies, more than 800 nongovernmental organizations, and more than 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries.

Environmental activist groups, which had previously raised and spent significant money in public relations campaigns regarding species classification decisions, had opposed the IUCN’s objective standards, claiming they would not adequately protect threatened species in the state. The success of manatees and bald eagles during the past year appears to have vindicated the objective process.

“Endangered Species Acts, be they state or federal, need to focus on species recovery,” observed Daniel Simmons, natural resources task force director for the American Legislative Exchange Council. “This is a good example of a state following a science-based approach that has resulted in species such as manatees and bald eagles moving in the right direction.”

Added Simmons, “If more states and the federal government would create recovery incentives and work with private property owners rather than against them, more species would benefit like the manatees and bald eagles in Florida.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.