Death Warrant for Manatees?

Several environmental groups including “Save the Manatees” are calling on the governor to veto a bill they say will harm boaters as well as the endangered sea cow. Environmentalists say boaters may find themselves facing tougher federal rules if the governor signs the bill into law.

The group Save the Manatees says Florida will shoot itself in the foot if the governor signs a bill that’s intended to protect boaters’ rights as well as manatees. The Manatee Sanctuary Act would now include language saying Florida must maximize recreational use of the state’s waterways.

Save the Manatees spokesman Pat Rose says that shouldn’t be the State Fish and Wildlife Commission’s responsibility.

“We think it will actually delay the recovery of the manatee from endangered status, and will make it more difficult for the state to keep up with the regulations and will likely actually bring the federal government back into the picture, which many of the boaters do not want them involved,” says Pat Rose.

But the boating industry says the bill is a fair compromise. They say it protects manatees while also recognizing the importance of recreational boating to Florida’s economy.

Boating industry lobbyist Wade Hopping says manatee protections have already helped bring back the population. The bill just makes it tougher to pile on new rules.

Wade Hopping of the Marine Manufacturers Association says, “If somebody wants tougher goals, adopt tougher goals. When we achieve them we ought to get a break.”

Jeb Bush seems to agree. He’s leaning toward signing the bill.

“We’ll be able to stabilize the manatee population without jeopardizing the boating interests in our state, which are really important,” says Gov. Bush.

The last time Florida balked at toughening manatee protections the feds put a lockdown on marina permits. Environmentalists hope that threat will be enough to convince the governor to think twice.

The governor’s office had not received the manatee bill as of Monday morning. His staff is reportedly reviewing it first. Once the governor receives the bill, he has 15 days to veto or sign it.