- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

OCALA, Fla. (AP) - Business groups on Friday once again sued federal wildlife managers to try and force them to lessen legal protections for Florida’s beloved manatees.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian legal organization, filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Ocala. It seeks to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether the sea cows should be classified as “threatened” instead of as “endangered” species.

Among concerns voiced by boaters and businesses are federal boat speed restrictions that they claim harm fishing and tourism on King’s Bay, a popular manatee wintering spot.

The group Save Crystal River, represented by PLF, filed an initial complaint in 2012 arguing that the government’s own 2007 review of manatee numbers recommended reclassifying the animals as threatened, and asking the government to make the change.

The suit was filed after the service failed to issue a decision more than a year after its findings in 2014 that a review of the manatee’s endangered status was warranted, according to the lawsuit.

Ken Warren, a fish and wildlife spokesman, said the agency is actively working on a finding and expects to publish it no later than Dec. 31, 2015. The agency has been also reading through tens of thousands of public comments related to the manatee listing.

“Our progress is extensive, but slow because of workload requirements and other priorities, such as meeting court-approved deadlines under two multi-district litigation settlement agreements (with other groups),” he said in a statement.

Manatee numbers have been improving, according to Florida wildlife officials.

In March state officials reported record numbers of the creatures, with a preliminary count of 6,063 statewide. That was an improvement of more than 1,000 manatees over the 2010 count.

The plaintiffs say they want the government to follow the law, and reflect the larger population numbers in the manatee’s legal standing.

“It is frustrating that we have to keep going to court to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do its job, obey the legal deadlines, and bring manatee regulations into line with scientific findings,” Christina Martin, a PLF attorney, said in a news release.

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