Wildlife board delays vote on status of manatees
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09/12/07 Seán Kinane
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The board of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted this morning to heed Gov. Charlie Crist suggestion to delay making a decision on changing the manatee's classification from endangered species to threatened species.

Crist said in his Sept. 10 letter to FWC Chairman Rodney Barretto that there are two new commissioners, there were a record 417 manatee deaths last year, and there needs to be a more accurate way to count the manatee population.

The FWC is meeting this week in St. Petersburg. Barretto agreed with Crist that the decision should be delayed.

“I think the letter and the request is totally in order I support it and I’ll entertain a motion to go ahead and defer the item,” Barretto said this morning.

After some discussion, the motion to delay the decision to downlist the manatee was passed 6-0.

The next chance that the reclassification of the manatee might be decided will be at the FWC’s December meeting in Key Largo.

The public still had an opportunity to comment on manatee reclassification today. Most of the people who spoke favored maintaining the mammal’s endangered status. But some were in favor of moving ahead with reclassifying the manatee as threatened.

Tracy Colson of Crystal River was pleased that the FWC postponed its decision because she saw two manatees die this summer due to boat strikes. Colson said manatees "don’t need less protection, they need more protection."

Ken Stead from the Marine Industries Association said that the FWC should go forward with the status change.

Some of those who spoke in favor of keeping the manatees on the endangered list mentioned that there is a misalignment between how the state now categorizes the threat level to species and how other bodies, such as the IUCN , the World Conservation Union rates species.

Jen Hobgood, who is regional coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States’ Southeast Regional Office in Tallahassee, explains.

“One of the problems is the actual listing criteria that they’re using was revised in recent years. And actually, because it is misaligned with the IUCN criteria that it was modeled after, manatees are actually already losing protection. Basically, a species would have to be considered ‘critically endangered’ in order to be considered ‘endangered’ because IUCN had four main categories, I believe it is, and the way Florida adapted it, we basically lost one because they were misaligned with those criteria.”

Also at today’s meeting, the FWC announced that it will partner with the Wildlife Federation to look at the effects of global climate change on fish and wildlife in Florida in a conference in July or August of 2008. The FWC also adopted a Global Climate Change Resolution.

Jerry Karnas is the state director for Environmental Defense and said that part of the resolution was unique.

“When you go to wildlife conferences, you know, the Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Agency conferences, this is a hot topic amongst wildlife managers. But what Florida did today was the first time that any wildlife agency had actually taken action like this to comprehensively put forth a framework to start addressing the adaptation and mitigation side of global warming, which is almost just as important as taking care of the emissions and stabilizing the climate. We have a certain level of impacts that we’ve bought, no matter what.”

Ken Haddad, executive director of FWC, discussed where state-mandated cuts might occur to the $276-million annual FWC budget.

It is possible that up to 70 law enforcement positions could be cut in addition to laying off up to 20 people from the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund, Haddad said.

Some programs were slated for possible elimination or budget cuts, including red tide control, mitigation grants and monitoring, and manatee rehabilitation; though Haddad said the Save the Manatee Trust Fund was safe. He said that the agency will have to face difficult cuts again.

“It’s going to be just as difficult if not more difficult next year.”

Also at today's meeting, the FWC voted unanimously to adjust the status of gopher tortoises from "species of special concern" to }threatened."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting will continue tomorrow beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Hilton in downtown St. Petersburg.

Learn more:

FWC

IUCN - The World Conservation Union - Red List of Threatened Species

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