NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Using Manatees As A Weapon To Stifle Growth

February 12, 2002

The Florida manatee, the slow-moving, weed-munching, underwater mammal, is listed as an endangered species. It has been co-opted as a tool of anti-growth advocates -- whom critics say are less concerned with the animals' welfare than with restricting development.

For instance, Patrick Rose, a lobbyist for the Save the Manatee Club, calls manatees "the best, most effective growth-management tool that exists."

Here's how it works:

  • Of the 325 Florida manatees that died last year, 81 are believed to have been killed in collisions with power boats.
  • So the state has blocked construction of new marinas until counties adopt manatee-protection plans -- which require lengthy studies of the effects of waterside development on the mammals.
  • Builders and boaters contend that biologists have put off studies that could show that manatees are thriving and that more restrictions are not needed.
  • The annual state aerial survey counted 3,261 manatees in 2001 -- up from 2,222 in 2000.

While it is true that watercraft-related manatee deaths have been increasing in the last several decades, boaters attribute that to growth in the state's manatee populations.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services proposed to charge $546 for each new boat slip to pay for added local manatee speed patrols. But the plan was withdrawn after it was opposed by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Some observers are disgusted that the welfare of the manatees has been lost in the anti-growth debate. In one instance, a developer offered to contribute $200,000 to a manatee-protection fund to overcome opposition to a federal permit to add powerboat berths to a marina.

Source: Andrew C. Revkin, "How Endangered a Species?" New York Times, February 12, 2002; "Corrections," New York Times, February 14, 2002.


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