Flagrant Violations Of Landmark Settlement Agreement By Federal Government Keep Manatees In Jeopardy
WASHINGTON, District of Columbia, Jul. 31 - /EWire/ -- Plaintiff groups in a landmark manatee protection legal settlement charged today that flagrant and ongoing violations of that agreement by the federal government are putting the endangered Florida manatee at greater risk.
A six-month review by the plaintiffs of federal permits for coastal development in Florida shows a clear pattern of a "business as usual" attitude on the part of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) that will result in the authorization of large numbers of new coastal projects without the conservation measures necessary to protect manatees and their habitat.
"It is clear that the federal government is violating both the spirit and letter of our agreement," stated Eric Glitzenstein, attorney for the plaintiff groups.
"In light of the number of manatees who continue to be killed and maimed by boat strikes - with 49 killed in just the first six months of 2001 - the USFWS and ACOE should be carefully scrutinizing each and every permit application because of the cumulative effects on manatees and their habitat," he added.
In its review, the coalition of environmental groups found instead that the Service in the past six months has given the green light to at least 200 new projects, comprising more than 1,400 boat slips in counties the Service itself had designated as high- and medium- risk areas for manatees.
"According to the settlement, the Service is required to recommend denial of the project if adequate speed zones, signage, and enforcement are not present before the project is built. The Service, however, has consistently told the Corps that it can issue permits where none of these conservation measures can be satisfied," said Judith Vallee, executive director of Save the Manatee Club.
"For example, even though the Service conceded there were no speed zones at all in the vicinity of a proposed project in Charlotte County for 29 new boat slips called Coral Cove, the Service did nothing to stand in the way of the project getting its Corps permit," she added.
Similarly, the Service has given the nod to extensive projects that will add many new slips to manatee habitat in Collier County, although many manatees continue to be killed by boats there.
"Indeed, despite the inadequacy of protective measures, the Service gave the go-ahead to five projects that will add 143 slips to the dangerous waters of Collier County," said Glitzenstein. "Nor are they considering the cumulative effects of this increased boat traffic on manatees. Rather, they are continuing to treat each application for a Corps permit in isolation. Unfortunately, this is one of the central reasons why the coalition brought the litigation in the first place."
"To say that we are frustrated is a gross understatement," said Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist of The Humane Society of the United States. "By circumventing the terms of the settlement, the Service is continuing to allow manatees to be illegally 'taken' and this is especially reprehensible as, judging by the very high mortality statistics so far, we are headed into another record-setting year. Frankly, the coalition is outraged. We are tired of government not doing its job. Nothing really seems to have changed except the rhetoric."
"Given this situation, we request that the Service immediately take all necessary steps to ensure scrupulous compliance with the settlement. Until those steps are taken, we have asked the Service to suspend approvals for Corps permits that will add new boat traffic in medium- and high-risk counties," Vallee concluded.