Manatee reclassification delayed again

DUCK KEY, Fla. – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has again placed a delay on making any changes to the state’s list of endangered, threatened or species of special concern, including the much-debated reclassification proposal for the manatee, the organization reported in a statement yesterday. The decision has been pushed back to November 2004.

The FWC, meeting in a three-day session at Duck Key, had planned to consider moving ahead on a petition to consider reclassifying manatees from endangered to threatened, as was reported in a Boating Industry article on November 7.

However, after convening a special panel to look at the listing process and after a full-day workshop on the issue, commissioners felt too many questions and unresolved problems exist in the listing process, according to the FWC.

Concern over lawsuits one factor

The board was also concerned over lawsuits that might be brought about based on a decision, the Orlando Sentinel reported in an article yesterday.

This marks the third time in 10 months that the FWC has scheduled a vote on the reclassification of the manatee and delayed any decision to allow the sides in conflict to find a middle ground, according to the Sentinel.

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"We've got a greater responsibility to take our time, to do the right thing and have the right science behind us," Commissioner John Rood of Jacksonville told the newspaper.

In favor of the proposed reclassification are boating groups who reference a growing number of manatees in recent studies. As many as 3,276 manatees were accounted for in the most recent count which reflects twice the number researchers found in the early 1990s, the Sentinel reported.

Ted Forsgren, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association expressed concern over people’s conceptions of the species’ endangered status, arguing that the reclassification would make more people aware of the growing number of manatees.

"We have a quarter-million acres of waterways under regulations," Forsgren told the paper. "At what point do you have sufficient regulations in place to sustain the population? You have no way of knowing whether you reached the goal."

Coming from the other side are manatee advocates who are concerned that the action to reclassify is pre-mature. They argue there is no way to be entirely sure the population is increasing, according to the Sentinel.

"Hopefully, we will have fewer challenges when we de-list, down-list or whatever," Commissioner H.A. "Herky" Huffman of Deltona told the newspaper. "We don't want to be in court fighting over this matter."

The FWC staff will continue working to recommend improvements to the listing process for commissioners to consider in coming months, according to the organization.

Currently, the FWC uses criteria developed in 1996 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify imperiled species. Commissioners stated that IUCN revised its criteria in 2001 and also employs new guidelines to interpret those criteria in classification of species, the FWC reported.

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