The Florida manatee is protected by federal law under both the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 (it had been previously listed as endangered in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. In 1893, the State of Florida passed legislation prohibiting the killing of manatees (USFWS 2001). In 1979, the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission listed the Florida manatee as an endangered species. In 2007, after much public debate, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commisission voted to defer a proposal to reclassify the Florida manatee from "endangered" to merely "threatened" on the state imperiled species list.
Critical habitat was designated for the Florida manatee on September 24, 1976 (Federal Register, 41 FR 41914). (The term "critical habitat" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act has specific technical legal meaning, but in essence it is habitat that is deemed essential to the conservation of a species, whether or not it is currentlly utilized by that species.) This designation delineated specific waterways in Florida that were known to be important concentration areas for manatees at that time. In 2008, a coalition of several environmental organizations filed a legal petition with the USFWS requesting a revision of the current critical habitat designation to reflect current regulations and guidelines regarding procedures for critical habitat designation, as well as much new information acquired during the past several decades about manatee distribution, habitat use, and habitat needs, such as the use of natural warm-water sites and power plant discharges. On January 12, 2010, the USFWS released its formal finding agreeing that a revision of the current critical habitat designation was warranted, but stating that such a revision could not be completed in the foreseeable future due to a lack of resources (Federal Register, 75 FR 1574-1579).
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