Manatees passed a huge milestone this week, but not everybody was cheering about the removal of the marine mammals from the endangered species list after 50 years. The US Fish and Wildlife Service called the change a "success story" for the species when it announced the change Thursday, the day after Manatee Appreciation Day, NPR reports. In a statement, FWS said the Florida manatee population had rebounded from a few hundred in the early 1970s to an estimated 6,620 today. FWS said that in considering the downlisting, it had looked at populations of the West Indian manatee throughout its range, which extends from the southeast US down as far as Brazil, CNN reports.
While there is still plenty of work to be done, "manatee numbers are increasing and we are actively working with partners to address threats," said acting FWS director Jim Kurth. But Patrick Rose, director of the Save the Manatee Club, described the move as a "devastating blow to manatees." He warned changing classification at this time will damage the "chances of securing the manatee's long-term survival" and said in light of the new administration's plans to cut regulations that protect wildlife and water quality, the move appears to be a political one. Manatees are now on the threatened list and FWS says the reclassification will not diminish federal protections. (Some 16% of Florida's manatees died off in 2013.)