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Manatee moment

Florida Voices
Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 09:54 PM

Because of existing protections, the manatee faces a brighter future. In 2007, U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists found the mammal's prospects had improved to the point that it no longer met the standards of an endangered species. But in the face of public pressure, the agency took no formal action.

So the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, representing the Florida Builders Association, went to court to compel a change. Specifically, it sought an official assessment completed within a year, a needed first step to changing the mammal's protected status. U.S. District Judge John Antoon, however, rejected their demand for a time-certain review.

Now the foundation's lawyers are back, this time representing a group of Citrus County business owners who oppose new federal boat speeds in the region's Kings Bay, where manatees congregate, especially during the winter. The foundation wants the wildlife service to strip the manatee of its endangered status, arguing there's been more than enough time for review. And they're right.

The 2007 evaluation is outdated. New information should be considered, including data about the water quality of Florida's rivers and coastal habitats on which the manatees depend. The wildlife service says it will decide within 90 days whether the foundation's petition warrants a detailed review. If it does, it would take a year to study the issue and make a decision.

If the manatee is no longer an endangered species, let's say so. But if it deserves protections to continue to thrive, let's be clear about that, too.

The status of the Florida manatee deserves a comprehensive study that provides the data needed to ensure its continued welfare. The study may take time, but it shouldn't take a lifetime.

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