Federal Officials Consider Removing Manatees From Endangered Species List

Monday, April 9th 2007, 8:37 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service might reclassify the manatee as threatened instead of endangered, a move suggesting the marine mammal has rebounded from the brink of extinction, according to an internal memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The March 26 memo says Florida manatees are showing positive growth and adult survival rates, the Post reported Monday.

The agency plans to say that the manatee ``no longer meets the definition of an endangered species,'' according to the memo, which was sent to the White House.

Threatened species are still protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Endangered means an animal is at a foreseeable risk of extinction. Threatened means a species could become endangered if protections are not maintained.

Chuck Underwood, a spokesman with the agency's Jacksonville office, told the Post the memo was drafted after a review of the manatee's progress, and government officials have not made a final decision on the issue yet.

``Until it gets final signatures on it, it could change,'' Underwood said. ``It is an internal document. ... Is it the way we're going at the time? Yes. Is it also possible it could change? Yes.''

An Associated Press call seeking more comment from the agency's Jacksonville office was not immediately returned.

This year's annual manatee census recorded 2,812 of the animals, also known as sea cows, in Florida water. Last year, scientists found 3,116.

In 1991 _ the survey's first year _ 1,267 manatees were counted in the state.

Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, said a classification switch could mean changes in boating and development restrictions that were established to protect manatees.

``This is not the time to be moving to say that they're going to be downlisting (the manatees) and then dilute the protection for them,'' Rose said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted last year to change the manatee's status from endangered to threatened.