Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Asks Interior Secretary to Reverse Manatee Decision

Apr 13, 2017
Press Release
Leads Bipartisan Effort to Protect Iconic Animal

WASHINGTON – Rep. Vern Buchanan announced today he is leading a bipartisan effort to overturn the weakening of critical protections for the Florida manatee. 

Buchanan wrote to the Interior Secretary objecting to the downgrading in a letter signed by 11 Florida congressmen from both parties, including Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist and Daniel Webster. 

“This decision was disappointing and potentially very harmful to the survival of the iconic Florida animal,” the letter said. “Based on widespread opposition from the public and scientists, we urge you to overturn this decision and restore manatees to endangered status.”

The letter said, “during the public comment period for the downlisting rule, nearly 87,000 comments opposed the rule with only 72 comments in support. We would also note that the scientists invited by the Fish and Wildlife Service to formally review the downlisting plan opposed weakening manatee protections.”

The Interior Department’s decision, finalized on March 30, downgraded the manatee’s protection status from “endangered” to “threatened.” Despite the agency’s assertion that a downlisting would not affect federal protections for the manatee, a move from endangered to threatened could cause a broader reassessment of state and local protections for the animals.  

Buchanan noted that days after the agency’s proposal was first announced, Brevard County commissioners called on the Florida legislature to weaken manatee protections.

Manatee deaths are on the rise according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. There were 520 deaths in 2016, more than 100 of which were caused by boats and other watercraft.

“The manatee at one time was on the brink of extinction,” the group wrote. “We cannot support any action that could lead to such conditions again.”

Letter signers included Reps. Kathy Castor, Daniel Webster, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson, Val Demings, Darren Soto, Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist.

Manatees face a variety of threats to their existence, including watercraft collisions, habitat loss and red tide. Additionally, the warm water springs manatees depend on during the winter months for survival are disappearing. 

Buchanan noted that 16 percent of Florida manatees died in 2013 as a result of a massive bloom of red tide algae as well as a mysterious ailment that killed a number of manatees along the state’s east coast.

Buchanan has previously written a formal objection letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service to emphasize that any push to weaken protections for the manatee would be “misguided and premature.” In 2014, following a three-year period in which 1,600 manatees died of cold weather or red tide, Buchanan also called on FWS to maintain federal protections for manatees.

Text of the letter below:

Dear Secretary Zinke,

We urge you to reconsider and reverse the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision last week to downgrade protections for the Florida manatee.

This decision was disappointing and potentially very harmful to the survival of the iconic Florida animal.

Despite the agency’s assertion that a downlisting from endangered to threatened would not affect federal protections for the manatee, the move could cause a broader reassessment of critical state and local protections for the animals.

In fact, just days after this rule proposal was announced, the Brevard County commissioners approved a resolution requesting that the Florida Legislature review slow-speed zones currently in place for boats and called for a reconsideration of the state’s Manatee Sanctuary Act, which established protections for manatees and their habitats in several counties, including Sarasota and Manatee.

As you may know, the manatee at one time was on the brink of extinction. We cannot support any action that could lead to such conditions again.

Manatees face a variety of threats to their existence, including watercraft collisions, habitat loss and red tide. Additionally, the warm water springs manatees depend on during the winter months are disappearing. We also would note that manatee deaths are on the rise, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

During the public comment period for the downlisting rule, nearly 87,000 comments opposed the rule with only 72 comments in support. We would also note that the scientists invited by the Fish and Wildlife Service to formally review the downlisting plan opposed weakening manatee protections.

Based on widespread opposition from the public and scientists, we urge you to overturn this decision and restore manatees to endangered status.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.