Crist’s move saves sea cows

Gov. Charlie Crist has made it known that fat kids have just got to go. The former Attorney General, who is in his first year in Tallahassee, has initiated plans to mandate physical education in all public schools and made it clear that fatties need to lose some weight.

But just when we thought Crist was getting tough on dough boys and girls, we find out that the Governor might actually have a soft spot for one of the fattest creatures of them all: the manatee.

With the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission ready to downgrade the sea cow from endangered status to threatened, Crist decided to halt their decision on the fate of these beloved mammals last week.

By calling for more review of the species’ overall viability, Crist bought the manatee some time – a much-needed move

considering their peril.

Last year was the worst for manatees with a record 417 deaths, according to the Wildlife Commission. To make matters worse, of those deaths, 91 were caused by boats alone.

The Commission, however, has been under extreme pressure from boaters and developers to change the manatee’s endangered status, but Crist has held strong in his commitment to make the proper decision on our portly neighbors.

While developers have faced difficulties trying to receive leniency on dock permits, the Commission is struggling to keep track of the manatee population. Last year’s estimate of nearly 3,000 hinted that the population is on the rebound, but that it’s an estimate is precisely why our governor decided to hold off on his decision.

Citing the Florida Manatee as “one of Florida’s greatest natural resources,” Crist ordered a postponement due to “the need for a better method to estimate the population.” This is a sharp shift from the Commission’s current policy. Due to statewide budgetary cuts, they intended to cut back nearly 90 officers from the divisions, but Crist placed his foot down and returned with a stern “nah.”

Crist told commissioners last Friday that their agency was his favorite in the state and that what they do “is in my heart.”

“I want to specifically thank you for your protection of the manatee,” he told the


Awww, Crist has a soft spot for the chubby critters. It’s about time.

However, the Commission deserves a finger-wagging. It was less than a year ago that they voted to prematurely move manatees off the endangered

list, more than likely playing right into the hands of


If Crist sets this standard for other politicians – not weakening species protection – Florida could very well be close to changing the way state agencies such as the Commission vote on the altering of our natural resources.

It seems like the gears might already be in motion. Earlier this year, the Commission voted to terminate a permit process initiated in 1991 that allowed construction companies to pay a fee to bury gopher tortoises. Not only did they stop the mowing over of these already vulnerable creatures, the Commission raised their protection from a “species of special concern” to “threatened.”

Could it be that Florida is finally taking the turn to becoming a more environmentally friendly state? Could it be that three years from now when his term is up, Crist will still be all hugs and kisses with the Commission and holding summits to examine the state’s impact on a global warming?

I’d like to hope that Florida could experience a breakthrough somewhat unknown to this state. Florida could experience a change in which environmentalists are viewed as more than just wackos trying to live without air conditioning or automobiles. A change in the way Florida develops and manages wetlands – maybe even a change in the way Florida protects its aquifers and monitors water usage.

Or maybe it could just be a governor in his first year of office trying to please everyone he can. If so, I guess Florida can always count on a future of boaters and developers determining the fate of the manatee.

Eric Smithers is a senior

majoring in mass communications.