Buchanan urges Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw plan to loosen protections for manatees

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday to withdraw a plan to remove the manatee from the Endangered Species Act’s highest level of protection.

A public comment period for a proposal to downgrade the manatee from “endangered” to “threatened” opened in January and closes on Thursday.

“I’m concerned that weakening protections will lead to a decline in the manatee population,” Buchanan said. “Manatees are iconic residents of Florida. We should be doing all we can to ensure the survival of these gentle giants.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) failed to take into account the number of manatees that have died since 2012 in making their assessment, Buchanan said, adding that 16 percent of the state’s manatee population was killed during a red tide algae bloom in 2013.

“The manatee population has started to rebound because of the protections put in place by the Endangered Species Act,” Buchanan said. “But based on the data provided, it’s clear that we can’t assume that manatees are safe — so I’m urging caution.”

Additionally, Buchanan said the FWS had downplayed the consequences of downgrading the manatee because transitioning from “endangered” to “threatened” could lead to states and local government reassessing their protections for manatees.

“The service cites the existence of federal and state laws such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act as sufficient in providing the animals with the protections they need,” Buchanan said. “Yet there is no guarantee that such other laws will remain in place to protect the species even if manatees are downlisted under the ESA.”

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