The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Elizabeth Fleming, (727) 410-0455 or Laurie Macdonald, Defenders of Wildlife, (727) 580-9585
Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 308
Eric Glitzenstein, Wildlife Advocacy Project, (202) 588-5206
Pat Rose or Katie Tripp, Save the Manatee Club, (407) 539-0990

Feds Agree With Conservationists That Endangered Florida Manatees Need More Habitat Protection, But Indefinitely Delay Protection


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that new
critical habitat protections are warranted for Florida's endangered manatee
but the agency will wait for increased funding before it takes action.
The notice, published in today's Federal Register, comes in response to
a petition to revise the manatee's critical habitat filed by Defenders
of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Save the Manatee
Club, and the Wildlife Advocacy Project. According to the petition,
revised habitat protections are warranted based on a vast body of
science developed over the past three decades, which has better
identified the areas essential to the survival and recovery of manatees
as well as the important features of each area.

we are pleased that the Service has again acknowledged the Florida
manatee's need for updated protections, the fact remains that this
acknowledgment won't actually help the species," said Patti Thompson, a
leading manatee biologist and co-author of the petition for the
Wildlife Advocacy Project. "We stand by the science in our petition and
we stand by our call for prompt action to protect this iconic Florida

The Florida manatee was one of the first
species listed under the Endangered Species Act and among the first to
have critical habitat designated for protection. These protections
have helped slow the decline of manatees and promoted their
conservation, but manatees still face a host of threats, and new
habitat protections are urgently needed.

decision to withhold critical habitat protections puts the Florida
manatee in an administrative purgatory," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans
director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Endangered species
don't have much time to wait for bureaucracy, and the last stand of
precious habitat may be developed or destroyed while manatees await
needed protections."

Manatee habitat is threatened
by a variety of factors: coastal development, propeller scarring and
seagrass damage, dams and other water-control structures, and pollution
and marine debris such as derelict fishing gear. According to the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, more than seven times the sustainable level
of Florida's manatees are killed each year by human activities,
including vessel collisions. This past year was an especially deadly
one for the Florida manatee - setting a new record with 429 manatee
deaths in state waters. Records were set for cold stress-related
deaths (56), watercraft-related fatalities (97), and 114 newborn

"Actions speak louder than words, and for
the Florida manatee, inaction will undoubtedly mean further delay in
recovering this species. With this year's record deaths and looming
threats, the species clearly needs all the help it can get," said
Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

is at stake regarding the appropriate designation and protection of the
endangered manatee's critical habitat, upon which countless other
sensitive aquatic species also depend for their very existence," said
Patrick Rose, Save the Manatee Club executive director. "We are
committed to working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure
that the money is found to both update the designation and to reduce
the out of control, record-breaking watercraft and total mortality that
manatees endured during 2009."

Today's announcement
means that the Fish and Wildlife Service, despite recognizing that
critical habitat designation would benefit the conservation of
Florida's endangered manatee, will most likely put off any action

"With manatee deaths at an all-time
high, it is unfortunate that the Service has relegated this vitally
important rulemaking to the backburner indefinitely," said Eric
Glitzenstein, president at Wildlife Advocacy Project. "The Service
should instead be embracing it as an important opportunity to stem the
ever-increasing tide of manatee moralities and injuries."