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Manatee population booming in Fla.

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MIAMI — The population of Florida's iconic manatees has recovered enough that the species no longer meets the definition of ''endangered'' under the Endangered Species Act, federal wildlife officials said Thursday.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed relisting the slow-moving marine mammals as a ''threatened'' species, which would not change any current protections.

''Based on the best available scientific information, we believe the manatee is no longer in danger of extinction,'' Michael Oetker, deputy regional director for the wildlife service, said at a news conference at the Miami Seaquarium, which has rescued, rehabilitated, and released manatees back into the wild for decades.

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A Florida business group and the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the government in 2012 to reclassify the manatee, citing a 2007 federal review that recommended listing the species as threatened because the population is recovering.

They argued that if the federal government followed its own rules, the reclassification should have been automatic.

An ''endangered'' listing means the species is in imminent risk of extinction, while ''threatened'' means they could become endangered in the foreseeable future — an improvement wildlife officials likened to moving manatees from intensive care into a rehabilitation facility.

Florida's manatee population has grown from a few hundred in 1967 to 6,000.

Associated Press