The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking at reclassifying the federal endangered species list status of one of the Florida Keys most gentle and curious sea creatures -- the manatee.
The federal agency is considering down listing the West Indian Manatee from endangered to the less dire status of threatened on the federal endangered species list. It announced earlier this week that it is moving forward on a status review for the manatee, following an evaluation of information submitted in support of a 2012 petition to reclassify the marine mammal.
In 2012, the Pacific Legal Foundation, on behalf of the Citrus County group Save Crystal River, submitted a petition requesting the reclassification. In its request, the group included an analysis of the Fish and Wildlife Service's 2007 West Indian Manatee five-year review that recommended the status down listing.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has now embarked on a more in-depth status review and analysis required by the Endangered Species Act to determine whether reclassification of the West Indian Manatee is warranted. Also, the service is simultaneously conducting an updated five-year status review of the species.
Pacific Legal Foundation cites the federal agency's own recommendation as the reason why it supports the downgrade.
"We have no reason to disagree with the experts," Christina M. Martin, PLF attorney said. "It (the endangered listing) should be reserved for those species who are in danger of being extinct within the next 100 years."
The Fish and Wildlife Service requires that a species be in jeopardy of becoming extinct within 100 years to receive an endangered listing.
The Save a Manatee club is opposed to the down listing of the species, the group's Executive Director Patrick Rose said.
"We absolutely disagree," Rose said.
While manatee populations have bounced back significantly since the species was listed in 1973, boating deaths and injuries and habitat encroachment are still ongoing problems, Rose said. Also, red tides continue to cause manatee deaths. Last year alone, nearly 300 manatees died during various red tide outbreaks in southwest Florida, Rose said.
Manatees are also slow when it comes to reproduction, Rose said. A typical manatee will have only one calf every three to five years, Rose said.
There were less than 1,000 manatees when the species was listed in 1973, but the number has grown to more than 5,000 now, Rose said.
In 2013, there were 830 manatee deaths, with 72 attributed to boat strikes. Last year, eight manatees died in Monroe County with three of deaths attributed to boat strikes, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
So far this year, there have been 218 manatee deaths, with 39 being attributed to boat strikes. There have been eight manatee deaths reported in Monroe County with two being attributed to boat strikes, according to the FWC.
OFFER YOUR COMMENTS
The Fish and Wildlife Service is opening a 60-day comment period and requesting information concerning the status of the West Indian manatee throughout its entire range.
Public comment can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov. In the Keyword box, enter Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2014-0024. In the search panel, click on the "Proposed Rules" link to locate this document. People may submit a comment by clicking on "Send a Comment or Submission."
Comments can be mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2014-0024, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
In order to allow sufficient time for biologists to review and consider submitted information and conduct the review, submissions must be received on or before Sept. 2.