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Environmentalists, conservatives battle over whether manatees are 'endangered' or 'threatened'

  • Manatees Endangered Species -1.jpg

    In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, manatee Phoenix, foreground, who's tail was disfigured and damaged by a boat propeller, swims at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a “threatened” species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) (The Associated Press)

  • Manatees Endangered Species -2.jpg

    In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, a manatee comes up for a breath of air at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a “threatened” species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) (The Associated Press)

  • Manatees Endangered Species -3.jpg

    In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, manatees Juliet, left, and Phoenix, right, swim at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a “threatened” species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) (The Associated Press)

  • 4df3d85ef1a128215e0f6a706700541e.jpg

    In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, caretaker Joelle Palmer, foreground and intern Ally Levy, background, feed the manatees at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a “threatened” species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) (The Associated Press)

  • Manatees Endangered Species -5.jpg

    In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, manatee Juliet feeds at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a “threatened” species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) (The Associated Press)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering changing the manatee's status from endangered to threatened.

As part of that process, the agency is seeking public comment on its finding that a petition to reclassify the manatee has merits. The deadline for comments is Tuesday.

The majority of the more than 700 comments submitted so far urge the government to keep the manatee listed as endangered.

The groups behind the petition say those responses only prove that emotions drive manatee-related policies, not facts or the wildlife service's own rules. The Citrus County group Save Crystal River Inc. and the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation say excessive regulation protects manatees at the expense of businesses relying on waters where manatees swim.

Reclassifying the manatee wouldn't immediately change any of its protections.

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