Despite 2011 being one of the deadliest years for Florida manatees on record, a right-wing legal foundation filed a petition with the federal government Friday to strip the manatee of its status as an endangered species, challenging protections that have prevented the construction of docks and led to slow-speed zones along Florida’s rivers and canals.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based organization with a Florida office in Stuart, says the manatee’s status should be altered from “endangered” to “threatened,” a change that would not result in any immediate decline in protection. But the foundation said it could be a step toward removing it from the protected list completely.
The foundation represents Save Crystal River Inc., a group of Citrus County business owners who oppose federal restrictions, which they say harms the local economy.
Alan DeSerio, managing attorney of the foundation’s Stuart office, said a 2007 review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the manatee’s prospects had improved to the point that it no longer met the endangered standard. But the agency took no action.
Tourists watch as some manatees swim Tuesday Jan. 3, 2012, at Tampa Electric Company’s (TECO) now-closed manatee viewing site in Apollo Beach, FL. This TECO coal plant was also the site of protests during the RNC. With less access to rivers and springs, manatees now move to the warm water released from power plants when temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico get too cool for the gentle creatures. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
Ultimately, he said, his group would like to see the manatee removed from the list.
The foundation focuses on dismantling environmental regulations and land-use planning, as well “economic freedom” and opposition to affirmative action programs.
Pat Rose, executive director of The Save the Manatee Club, said the species faces serious threats to its survival, such as the decline of natural springs and high annual body counts from collisions with boats.
He called the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) “an organization with deep pockets that’s anything but sensitive to the environment, with a major anti-protection agenda.”
Ken Warren, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the service will decide within 90 days whether the petition merits a detailed review, then study the issue for a year before announcing a decision.
PLF’s business-backed threat to manatees should not be taken lightly. In 2007, a lawsuit filed by PLF attorneys resulted in the bald eagle being removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, what they considered a “landmark victory” for property rights.
[EF! Newswire Note: Just earlier this year, an attorney with PLF, Dave Breemer, was quoted criticizing the Keystone XL pipline's violation of property rights in Texas. Lets hope they stop their industry-driven bashing of the Endangered Species Act and actually stand up for people whose land and freedom are being trampled by corporations.]