Conservationists Win Court Challenge to Give Manatees and Sea Turtles Constitutional Protection
Florida conservationists claimed a major victory today when a Leon County Circuit Court Judge ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), which was created by voters in a constitutional revision in November 1998, has constitutional authority over endangered and threatened marine species.
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund -- the nation's largest public interest environmental law firm -- challenged the legislature's attempt to limit the FWCC's ability to protect endangered marine species on behalf of the Sea Turtle Survival League, the Save the Manatee Club, and the Florida Wildlife Federation in a lawsuit filed last summer. That lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of a statute passed by the Florida legislature last year – Chapter 99-245, Laws of Florida. That statute made the new FWCC's powers to make rules protecting endangered and threatened marine species statutory, not constitutional, and thus made it easier to delay or invalidate rules protecting manatees and sea turtles.
"The people of this state voted to make sure endangered and threatened marine species like manatees and sea turtles got the constitutional protection they needed," said Ansley Samson, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "Now they have that protection."
"This is a great victory for all the people of Florida who voted on a very clear constitutional amendment stating that they wanted full protection for endangered and threatened marine species," said Gary Appelson of the Sea Turtle Survival League, a program of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the world's oldest sea turtle protection organization. "It is unfortunate that we had to go to court over this."
"This court action reinstates the will of the people to give our most endangered animals the full and permanent protection of the law," said Patrick Rose, Director of Government Relations for the Save the Manatee Club, the state's largest environmental organization devoted to the protection of a single species.
"This action affirms the Florida Wildlife Federation's 20-year goal to have all the state's fish and wildlife managed by one constitutional agency," said Manley Fuller, President of the Florida Wildlife Federation, a statewide nonprofit citizens organization devoted to the conservation of Florida's fish and wildlife. "We're very happy that's taken place."