Florida’s endangered and threatened species are in even more danger from the Trump administration’s evisceration of the Endangered Species Act. New rules will make it even easier to push species off the list when the federal government already is thinking about yanking six species in Florida, including the Key deer, even though there are fewer than 1,000 left. The new rules would basically ignore climate change and its threat to already stressed species and their habitat. And they would for the first time allow estimates of the price of protecting a species -- but not the incalculable cost of just letting it die off. The manatee, the Florida panther and the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle are among the best known endangered or threatened species, but there are 131 just in the Sunshine State. Don’t let the Interior Department put a price on their heads. Congress should step in and stop this. Here are a few examples of what’s at stake.
The manatee is priceless
Florida’s marine mammal, the manatee, was on the original endangered species list when President Richard Nixon signed the law in 1973. Even though its numbers had dwindled to near extinction levels at that time, it’s not clear that the Trump administration’s new rules would even put it on a list today. There are now more than 6,600 manatees in Florida waters, and their status was changed in 2017 from “endangered” to “threatened.” But those threats come from all corners: Red Tides, toxic blue-green algae and, of course, boaters, who are on track to ram and kill a record number of manatees this year. You can’t put a price on its head.
The Florida panther is priceless
A generation ago, there were no more than 30 Florida panthers left. Thanks to a breeding program that brought in some female Texas cougars -- a close cousin -- there are now about 200 panthers, and they no longer suffer the effects of inbreeding. But the habitat of the Florida state animal keeps shrinking and 26 were run over by cars last year. They are still endangered, and you can’t put a price on its head.
The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is priceless
The Kemp’s ridley is the most endangered sea turtle in the world. There are only an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 nesting females, and they remain in danger of extinction. Humans are their greatest enemy. People can trample their nesting areas, artificial lights can confuse them on the beaches, and shrimp trawlers can inadvertently net them. Some people even poach them for meat or eat their eggs. You can’t put a price on its head.
The bald eagle is priceless
The bald eagle is a success story. It was on the original endangered species list and in danger of extinction. But banning the pesticide DDT allowed the eagle to come back, and the law’s protections allowed it to flourish. It was taken off the list a dozen years ago, although it remains protected under laws specific to the eagle, and Florida now has has estimated 1,500 nesting pairs, one of the densest concentrations in the continental United States. You can’t put a price on its head.
The alligator is ... about $20 a pound
It’s hard to believe now, but the alligator was once an endangered species. Gators thrived under the law’s protections, which shows just how well the Endangered Species Act can work. Gators came off the list in 1987, and alligator eggs and meat are now a multi-million dollar industry. Gator meat goes for about $20 a pound.
These lax rules will go into effect next month unless stopped by the courts or Congress. Congress can exercise oversight, and Florida’s House members and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott should make a bipartisan push to stop this cynical approach that favors industry and a misguided notion about economic growth over protecting wildlife. It’s the right thing to do, not just for wildlife but for Floridians and the state’s economy. When wildlife that is so identified with the Sunshine State faces a greater threat to survival, our values and Florida’s unique character also are at greater risk.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more.