How will Florida species like manatee and panther be impacted by Endangered Species Act changes?

Florida panther
manatee in Florida
Manatees in Crystal River, Florida. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (2008).

On Monday the Trump administration revised how it would enforce the Endangered Species Act.

Environmentalists warned that it could mean fewer protections for plants and animals in danger of going extinct – at the same time as a global mass extinction.

To find out what these changes could mean for Florida species like the manatee and Florida panther, WMNF spoke with Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Just yesterday, the Trump Administration finalized three different packages of regulations, all of which weaken, basically, the rules of the road, for how the Endangered Species Act is implemented. And, it’s pretty sweeping.

“It has to do with how easy it is to add a species of plants or animals to the list of endangered species. The level of protection that those species get once they’re added, in terms of protecting the critical habitat, the places they live.

“And then, after that, for all species that are already listed and may be listed in the future, changing how we minimize, and mitigate any potential harm to those species caused by any federal agencies’ actions nationwide. So, it’s a really sweeping set of rollbacks that will, in the whole, undermine the recovery of most endangered species because, we are weakening the safeguards that they have in place to protect them from being harmed by the Federal government.

“And, a good example, right in Florida is that, obviously, you’ve got the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They make lots of decisions about what happens in the water and where, in terms of development. And, we are weakening the safeguards that are put in place to protect endangered species from agencies, like the Army Corps.”

SK: So how might that effect a species, like the manatee or like the Florida panther here in Florida?

“Right, so for both the manatee and the panther, the Federal government is very involved in the permitting decisions and the actions that happen in Florida. In a nutshell, it’s called the ‘consultation process’ and it requires that the Fish and Wildlife Service be talked to before anything is done. And, that the harms that might come from development, in whatever form, are properly mitigated, properly minimized, so we don’t put the panther back on a path to extinction, so the manatee populations can keep growing.

“And, they’re changing the rules in a way that’s very, very dangerous, and effectively putting the burden on these species in terms of the scientific proof needed to take action. So what’s going to happen is more agency actions are going to get approved without real mitigation, because they’re going to use scientific uncertainty, it’s sort of the classic tactic of the tobacco industry, as an excuse to not properly regulate.

“So it’s going to set back the conservation of these two species, as well as, basically, every other species in Florida.”



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