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Endangered Species?

Endangered Species?.

Manatees No Longer Listed as EndangeredThe United States Fish & Wildlife Service has declared manatees are no longer an endangered species. The announcement comes after a remarkable rebound in manatee population and improved conditions in their habitat convinced federal authorities to lower the protection level for the species from “endangered” to “threatened” as stipulated by Endangered Species Act. It marks an astounding recovery for manatees, which stood on the brink of extinction in March 1973 when they were listed as endangered. Since then, the West Indian manatee population has grown from only a few hundred animals to more than 6,600 in Florida.

Steady Manatee Population

“This step is recognition of the progress that has been made in conserving manatee populations,” said Jim Kurth, acting director of the Fish & Wildlife Service. “While a lot of work still needs to be done to fully restore manatee populations, especially in the Caribbean, manatee numbers are on the rise and this move shows that various partners have made tremendous efforts to address threats, increase the population and protect their habitat.”

The proposal to reclassify the West Indian Manatee was made by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2016. The agency, part of the U.S.. Department of Interior, is responsible for determining which animal species need protection as prescribed by the Endangered Species Act. It manages manatee refuges and sanctuaries, and works with partners to improve manatee habitats by eliminating threats. According to the Endangered Species Act, those classified as endangered are currently at risk of extinction through all or a large portion of their range. A threatened species is one expected to face the risk of extinction in the foreseeable future.

“For the third straight year, spotters have counted more than 6,000 manatees and reported remarkable recovery and success throughout its range,” Jim Kurth said in a statement. “This is a dramatic turnaround from the 1970s when just a few hundred manatees remained, and we are confident that removing the aquatic creatures from the endangered species list will not claw back these gains as federal and state protections for the animals will not change.”

Mixed Reactions

The announcement has been met with mixed reactions, with some welcoming it while others opposing the reclassification.

“The decision to remove the manatees from the endangered list was many years overdue,” Christina Martin, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, said. “I am glad the federal government has finally recognized what experts first noticed over a decade ago. The manatee is on the rise and no longer at risk of extinction.”

But others criticized the decision. “Scientific evidence does not support this move,” Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club, said in a statement. “As a club, we are worried of a possible loosening of regulations, which may increase habitat threats and manatee losses. We want the FWS to update its manatee recovery plan and re-introduce recovery teams instead of increasing their vulnerability.”

The Center for Biological Diversity called the reclassification “a huge drawback” in its response. “Threats from boat strikes and habitat loss have persisted, and their removal from the endangered list could increase the threats in the long run. We do not support reducing the protections,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Florida director for Center for Biological Diversity.

“This is a big disappointment,” Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said. “The decision weakens the protections prescribed by Endangered Species Act and increases threats to the manatees, one of the most beloved animals in Florida.”

He added, “Manatees face a variety of threats to their existence, including habitat loss, red tide and watercraft collisions, so this move would expose them. I plan to contact the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to ask him to reconsider and possibly overturn the decision.”

Marker of Progress

For now, the move to downgrade the manatee from endangered to threatened species marks a milestone. There are currently around 13,000 manatees throughout the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean, which are subdivided into the Florida manatee and the Antillean manatee. And with federal and state protections remaining in place, the “sea cows” are on track to increase in population and fully recover from the danger of extinction.

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