Wednesday, May 23, 2018
News Roundup

Federal officials may take manatees down a notch on endangered species list

Federal officials announced Tuesday that they have agreed to consider removing Florida manatees from their list of endangered species. Instead, they said, the iconic mammals — which have been on the list since it was created in 1967 — may belong in the less protective "threatened" category, even though the number of manatees killed last year set a new record.

The potential change in the manatee's status is being considered under pressure from the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian group that generally opposes all environmental regulations. In this case it's working on behalf of Save Crystal River Inc., which opposes new federal rules requiring boats in Kings Bay to slow down during the summer as well as winter.

"We're glad to see the Fish and Wildlife Service is finally acknowledging our petition," foundation attorney Christina Martin said.

Before deciding what to do, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is inviting public input on the idea by Sept. 2.

The manatee, a native Florida marine mammal, is as big as a couch and shaped like a yam with flippers. Ever since Jacques Cousteau featured them in a 1972 television documentary, they have become an extremely popular symbol of the state's natural bounty and a key part of several tourist attractions. The manatee's homely image is depicted on everything from license plates (which pay for state manatee research) to barbecue sauce labels and liquor bottle holders.

Not everyone is a fan. The state's boating and development interests have been trying since 1999 to get manatees taken off the endangered list in hopes of blocking further restrictions on boating speeds and waterfront development.

The Pacific Legal Foundation has been the latest to try to get manatees' status changed. In a petition it sent the wildlife agency in 2012, the foundation contended that instead of being listed as endangered, manatees should be lowered to the category of "threatened." The threatened category still offers manatees some legal protection from loss of habitat and other threats, but not quite as much as the endangered list.

The foundation sued the agency this year because federal officials had failed to take any action on its petition. Agency officials blamed budget shortages due to the congressional sequestration.

In the petition, the foundation contended manatees should no longer be considered endangered because the most recent aerial survey counted 4,831 of them in Florida's waterways, which is about 1,800 more than were counted in a 2001 aerial survey.

Biologists generally caution against relying on those aerial survey numbers as if they were human census records. They compare the process of counting manatees as they rise to the water's surface to breathe to trying to count popcorn as it pops — you can't be sure you're seeing every single one.

When manatees were originally included on the federal endangered species list in 1967, records show, it wasn't because of their population size. Instead, they were put on the list because they faced dire threats from pollution, the loss of habitat and speeding boats — all of which remain threats today.

The foundation's petition also cited a 2001 study that contended that there was "virtually no real probability" of manatees going extinct in the next century. State and federal biologists have debunked that study, for which a pro-boating group paid $10,000 to an environmental consultant who specialized in dock permits for developers.

However, seven years ago the Fish and Wildlife Service released its own report saying manatees could be reclassified as threatened. That report was based on a computer model that said manatees are unlikely to go extinct in 100 years. But the report also gave them a 50 percent chance of dwindling to just 500 on either coast over the next 50 years. The foundation also cited that report.

Pat Rose of the Save the Manatee Club contended that things have changed since that report came out.

"There may have been some optimism in 2007," he said, "but we're in a completely different situation today."

As evidence, Rose pointed to two events. In 2010, a record number of manatees died — 766 — far surpassing the old record of 429 set in 2009. Nearly 400 were killed by a long cold snap in January 2010 and a second one in December.

Then, last year, the record was broken again as 829 died, hundreds of them from a Red Tide bloom or a mysterious ailment in the Indian River Lagoon that may be tied to pollution. That's more than 15 percent of the estimated population.

Martin, the foundation's attorney, acknowledged that the high number of deaths in 2013 could pose an obstacle against changing the manatee's status.

"I do agree that there's a problem," she said. "If things have changed (since 2007), then so be it."

Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @craigtimes.

Comments
Rays’ Jake Faria may be out until August, Vidal Nuno called up

Rays’ Jake Faria may be out until August, Vidal Nuno called up

UPDATE, 5:32: Faria is looking at at extended absence, potentially into August. Cash said an estimate of 6-8 weeks was on the optimistic side. "From what we found out he got it pretty good," Cash said.  "So it could be a little bit longer than t...
Updated: 1 minute ago

Sinkhole opens up near Bayfront Health’s Brooksville hospital

BROOKSVILLE — A large sinkhole opened up by Bayfront Health Brooksville hospital in a water retention pond between State Road 50 and the hospital’s parking lot, according to a hospital spokeswoman.The sinkhole poses no threat to hospital buildings, e...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
USF posts (mostly) solid APR marks

USF posts (mostly) solid APR marks

For the third consecutive year, all 16 USF sports programs posted Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores of 952 or better, well above the NCAA's minimum standard.But its two most prominent sports showed mild decreases.The 2016-17 APR scores (rolling fou...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Son tells NC police he found dog leash around neck of strangled Hillsborough developer Bill Bishop

Son tells NC police he found dog leash around neck of strangled Hillsborough developer Bill Bishop

After a prominent Hillsborough County developer died last month in North Carolina, word spread it was a heart attack that claimed his life.But records from that state show the death of William "Bill" Bishop was much more complicated.His 16-year-old s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

TAMPA — An Ohio mother was struck by a speeding car and killed Wednesday while pushing a stroller across Bayshore Boulevard and her 21-month-old daughter was seriously injured, Tampa police said.The two were hit by a northbound car around 11:43 a.m. ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
State softball: Land O’Lakes advances to second straight title game

State softball: Land O’Lakes advances to second straight title game

VERO BEACH — Land O'Lakes had just finished a hard-fought 5-0 victory over Clay in the Class 6A state semifinal. Callie Turner threw a no-hitter. Jolene Bodner had a two-run single.The win was big, clinching the Gators' second straight champion...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Eckerd College student critically injured in campus accident just before graduation

Eckerd College student critically injured in campus accident just before graduation

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student fell from a ladder on campus in the hours before her graduation ceremony and remained hospitalized Wednesday with head injuries.Chicago native Rebecca Ryan Lavin-Burgher, known as Becca on campus and RyRy to...
Updated: 1 hour ago
State baseball: Carrollwood Day comes up a run short in semifinals

State baseball: Carrollwood Day comes up a run short in semifinals

FORT MYERS — One swing.That's all it took for Carrollwood Day's historic season to come to an end.With two outs and two runners on in the third inning of the Class 3A state semifinal against Tallahassee North Florida Christian, Patriots starter...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa charter review board recommendations go to City Council

Tampa charter review board recommendations go to City Council

TAMPA —After nine months of meetings, Tampa’s first City Charter review commission has delivered its recommendations.It’s a modest wish list but an important start, commissioners said in advance of today’s City Council workshop.Mostly, the commission...
Updated: 2 hours ago