PLF sues feds for stalling on manatee downlisting
Palm Beach Gardens, FL; April 30, 2014: Attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation today sued the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) because it persists in listing the manatee as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, even though the agency’s own scientific findings say that the species, found in the warm waters of Florida and elsewhere on the Atlantic Coast, should be “downlisted” to “threatened.”
Donor-supported PLF is a nonprofit watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts nationwide. PLF’s Atlantic Center office is located in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
PLF attorneys represent Save Crystal River, Inc., a nonprofit organization of citizens from Crystal River in Citrus County, Florida, who advocate for property rights and a quality of life that preserves the proper balance between nature and human activity. As with all its clients, PLF represents Save Crystal River free of charge.
“In late 2012, PLF and Save Crystal River submitted a petition for the downlisting of the manatee,” said PLF attorney Christina M. Martin, who is based in PLF’s Atlantic Center office. “But federal officials failed to act. That failure means we must sue to force regulators to do their job.”
“The foot-dragging has continued even though there are more manatees today than when the feds’ own study said the species can and should be downlisted,” Martin continued. “While there have been news reports about a high number of manatee deaths last year, the government has still reported that the species’ population is significantly higher than a decade ago.”
Specifically, on January 23, 2014, the FWS published a stock assessment for the West Indian manatee in the Federal Register, which states that the minimum current population estimate for the West Indian manatee is 4,976, including 4,834 Florida manatees (79 Fed. Reg. 3856-57). In contrast, the agency’s 2007 status review for the West Indian manatee (which called for downlisting the species) stated that the “best, current, minimum population estimate” was more than 25 percent lower than at present: 3,300.
The feds’ seven-year stall
In 2007, the FWS conducted a status review of the West Indian manatee, the species found in Florida, which includes the subspecies Florida and Antillean manatee. The purpose of the status review, required every five years by the Endangered Species Act, is for the government to ascertain on a regular basis whether a listed species still requires ESA protection, and if so, to what degree.
The 2007 review recommended that the West Indian manatee should be downlisted from its current endangered status to the status of “threatened.” The review relied heavily upon information provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“It has been seven years since the federal government’s own scientific review signaled that the manatee should be removed from ‘endangered’ status,” said Martin. “But no action has been taken. Everyone who values responsible environmental management should be concerned by this foot-dragging and failure to follow scientific findings. What’s really endangered here is accountability in government and credibility in regulations.
“Our lawsuit is necessary because environmental policy has to be kept honest,” Martin continued. “Changing the manatee’s status from endangered to threatened won’t change the protections for the species. But not changing that status — when the science says it should be changed — will undermine the credibility of environmental oversight, and that’s bad news for all species and all environmental concerns.”
Save Crystal River says: “The rule of law is at issue”
PLF attorneys represent Save Crystal River, Inc. (a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation). Save Crystal River (SCR) is a coalition and partnership of friends and neighbors, young parents and retirees, career professionals and business owners, residents, and community leaders, who became united by their commitment to maintain and protect the unique quality of life for all people in the community of Crystal River and Citrus County, on Florida’s west coast. The mission of SCR is to educate the public regarding current environmental, property, and riparian rights, and to represent the interest of the citizens of Crystal River against excessive government regulation of the Crystal River and the resources of the surrounding area.
The FWS has moved to effectively take over the entire bay that the City of Crystal River sits on — the 600-acre Kings Bay — because manatees come into the bay for four months of the year, from November through February. The threat of onerous federal regulations endangers the fishing industry and the tourist industry.
“It is important to preserve a healthy environment,” said Steve Lamb, vice president of Save Crystal River. “It is also important to preserve the rule of law and integrity of the regulatory process. Unfortunately, litigation has become necessary in order to make the government follow the findings of science, and obey its own rules.”
PLF’s complaint may be found at PLF’s website: www.pacificlegal.org.
About Pacific Legal Foundation and its Atlantic Center
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is a nonprofit public interest watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulation, in courts across the country. PLF’s Atlantic Center is located in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Among PLF’s noteworthy victories: The federal court ruling that led to the bald eagle being removed from the ESA list. PLF represents all clients free of charge.