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Manatee. Photo by S. Whitecraft, USFWS.

Federal finding means Florida manatee critical habitat designation warrants revision

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that revising critical habitat for the Florida manatee is needed, but the revision process is precluded by higher priority listing-related actions and funding constraints.

Today’s decision, commonly known as a 12-month finding, follows a comprehensive review of all available scientific and commercial information relevant to the revision of existing critical habitat for the Florida manatee. The finding is also the Service’s formal response to the December 2008 revision petition from the Wildlife Advocacy Project, Save the Manatee Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife.

Critical habitat was originally designated for the Florida manatee in 1976 in areas of Citrus, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, De Soto, Lee, Collier, Monroe, Dade, Palm Beach, Martin, West Palm Beach, Volusia, Brevard, Nassau and Duval counties. It was one of the Endangered Species Act’s (Act) first critical habitat designations for an endangered species and the first for an endangered marine mammal.

That original critical habitat designation for the Florida manatee was made before critical habitat regulations and guidance was developed. Therefore, it does not identify those essential features needed for the species conservation. Instead, it describes specific waterways that were known to be important concentration areas for manatees at that time. Service biologists also recognize that the geographic areas originally described as manatee critical habitat need to be updated, based on recent scientific studies of manatee distribution, habitat use, and habitat needs.

Service officials note that a revision of the critical habitat designation could include both additions and deletions to the current designation, and specific areas within and outside of the geographical area currently occupied by manatees.

“In addition to the most obvious habitat needed for the Florida manatee – warm water refuges,” said Dave Hankla, field supervisor for the Service’s North Florida office in Jacksonville, “we also may consider adequate forage areas near these refuges, calving and nursing areas, and important travel corridors throughout the state.”

Critical habitat is a term defined in the Act. It identifies geographic areas containing features essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species that may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands.

“In this particular case, the Service will continue to consult with federal agencies on projects that may impact manatees, regardless of whether these projects occur in designated critical habitat or not, ” Hankla noted. “Thus, the regulated public will see negligible change in how we conduct business under the Act.”

For more information about the Florida manatee and this finding, please visit the Service’s web site at

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Visit the Service online at or


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