A conservative 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, reflecting its increase in numbers.
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.
"To hold the species in the category of endangered when it's really not, they're not doing their job," DeSerio said.
Ultimately, he said, his group would like to see the manatee removed from the list.
"Given the rebound of the manatee in Florida, eventually the population could no longer qualify for being threatened," he said.
The foundation focuses on environmental regulations, land-use, economic freedom and opposition to race-based government 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 "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.
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