Earthjustice attorney David Guest argued in Florida Supreme Court today to overturn legislation limiting the power of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to protect endangered and threatened marine species such as sea turtles, manatees, and sturgeon. The suit, brought on behalf of Florida Wildlife Federation, Save the Manatee Club, and the Sea Turtle Survival League, seeks to have language in the law establishing the FWCC declared unconstitutional because it attempts to withhold species protections guaranteed under Florida’s constitution.
In 1998 Florida voters overwhelmingly approved adding Amendment 5 to the state constitution. The amendment mandated the merging of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission and the Marine Fisheries Commission into one new Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responsible for managing and protecting all of Florida’s wildlife. The legislation implementing the amendment seeks to limit that power by exempting endangered and threatened species from the protections afforded under Amendment 5.
“We have been in court over this for nearly four years,” said Guest. “Today we hope to convince the Supreme Court once and for all that the FWCC was created with the intention of protecting all creatures great and small. That’s what the voters supported and the legislature should not be allowed to change that.”
The legislation implementing Amendment 5 states, “the commission has full constitutional rulemaking authority over marine life, and listed species as defined in S. 372.072(3), except for endangered and threatened marine species.” This language, which contradicts the intent of the amendment, is an attempt by the legislature to maintain control over threatened and endangered species and limit their constitutional protections. The consequence of the language is that the FWCC can promulgate rules affecting these marine species only when the legislature statutorily authorizes the commission to do so. According to Guest, statutory protections could be weakened by a wildlife-unfriendly legislature.
“We’re talking about legislation that places Florida’s most prized species at risk of falling victim to politics. We’re talking about sea turtles, manatees, sturgeon,” said Guest. “We believe these species should be protected under the constitution, no matter who happens to be in office or running for reelection.”