Manatee management causes tremendous conflict between the boating/angling community and conservation groups. Years and millions of dollars have been expended litigating disputes. Resource managers believed that encouraging stakeholder dialogue could help. Group Solutions was engaged to design an open, long-term process.
A “Continental Congress” manatee forum with 22 organizations from both sides has helped. The Forum identifies and recommends consensus-based positions to USFWS and FWC for more effective manatee protection and regulation. 8 forums have been held between 2/2005 and 8/2007 each including topical research team presentations, vigorous facilitated debate and the search for commonality.
Significant 1-on-1 contact between sessions has been necessary to correct misunderstandings, defuse explosive claims and keep stakeholders engaged. Personal relationships and trust have been vital to establishing neutrality.
• Stakeholders have gained new access to Agency leaders and recognized their input in agency recommendations.
• Managers have presented manatee management recommendations that demonstrate active stakeholder involvement.
• Dialogue is taking place between groups and individuals that would have been unimaginable 5 years ago.
• Federal and State litigation has been greatly reduced, as have political tensions in Tallahassee.
• Factual agreement, based on the best available science, for the status of the existing manatee population has replaced misinformation and conspiracy theories.
• The research direction and funding for manatee studies and boating signage efforts have been based on stakeholder consensus and support in Tallahassee.
• Perceptions are changing that all answers are known or that government can solve all problems