Congressman Vern Buchanan is attacking an announcement Thursday from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgrading protections for the Florida manatee from “endangered” to “threatened.”
It’s a “huge disappointment,” the Sarasota Republican said.
“The decision to weaken protections under the Endangered Species Act threatens the survival of the manatee, one of Florida’s most beloved animals,” Buchanan added. “It needs to be reversed.”
Buchanan plans to contact Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to ask him to reconsider and overturn the decision.
Florida manatees have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. By 1979, FWS officials estimated there were only 800 to 1,000 individual manatees.
Through careful management of the manatee and its habitat, both the FWS and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have helped the animals’ population rebound.
Now Florida waters are home to more than 6,000 manatees.
However, manatee deaths are on the rise. In 2016, there were 520 deaths, more than 100 of which were caused by boats and other watercraft.
In January, the FWS proposed to remove the manatee from the endangered species list reclassify it as “threatened” after “significant improvements” in its population and habitat conditions.
This prompted Buchanan to pen a formal objection letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service to emphasize that any push to weaken protections for the manatee would be “misguided and premature.”
In 2014, following a three-year period in which 1,600 manatees died of cold weather or red tide, Buchanan also called on FWS to maintain federal protections for manatees.