Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Senator Bill Nelson says don't downlist the manatee

The West Indian Manatee (from Wikipedia)
In a strongly-worded letter, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson called on the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to halt the proposed downlisting of the West Indian Manatee from endangered to threatened.

Nelson said that the move was "premature" and "potentially dangerous to long-term recovery efforts." He was joined by at least 12 Florida Congresspersons.

On January 8, 2016, the U.S. FWS announced its intention to downlist the manatee. More than 40,000 comments were received according to the FWS. The Sierra Club generated 19,000 comments against the move.

Sierra Club and Save the Manatee Club leaders meet with
Senator Bill Nelson on manatee downlisting

In addition to written comments, Sierra Club leaders and members joined hundreds on February 20, to speak out against the decision at a hearing held by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency in Orlando.

One person who testified against downlisting, Darryl Rutz from the Broward Sierra Club, says now is not the time:
“I have done a lot of kayaking in the Sebastian area which is on the famed Indian River Lagoon. My favorite spot was the south prong of the St. Sebastian River," he said. "On two of three outings I have seen two dead Florida manatees. One was a very young manatee. On my 3rd trip there was a very large dead manatee tied to the dock at the launch area. A sleeping giant! On returning to the launch area I saw the trailer leave with the dead manatee. That is when extreme sadness took over. This beautiful and friendly creature was gone from the river.”
Manatee die-offs happen fast. In 2013, 830 manatee deaths were reported, double the annual average.

Save the Manatee Club said FWS computer models used to justify the decision did not consider recent die-offs. They note:
From 2010-2015, 3,217 manatees died in Florida waters, which is 53% of the highest minimum population ever recorded (6,063 in 2015). 
The FWS decision for Florida is largely based on a computer model that does not include two recent, massive die-offs of hundreds of manatees. The manatee population suffered catastrophic losses from prolonged cold snaps and toxic red tide blooms from 2010 through 2013. The computer model also does not deal with loss of habitat due to waterfront development. In addition, there is no long-term plan for the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat on which more than 60% of the Florida manatee population depends.
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the FWS move to downlist the manatee came after the industry-backed Pacific Legal Foundation sued the agency in 2014 on behalf of a group of Gulf Coast residents who oppose further federal restrictions on boating and waterfront construction. Newspapers throughout Florida, including the Miami Herald, have decried the downlisting.

This is not the only megafauna facing a loss of protection. This year, the FWS is moving to delist the grizzly bear putting its future in the hands of western states that allow hunting.

Read more: Save the manatee comments to FWS