FWC General News

rodney barreto 100.gif    As I See It
By Rodney Barreto, Chairman
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

FWC Officer’s Shooting Reflects Dangers of Conservation Law Enforcement

If you ask law enforcement officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) about their job, in the mix of describing what they do, they likely will say they love the work that they do.  Their work to protect natural resources is important and meaningful; they want to contribute to society and make their community, state and world a better place.

Undeniably, their jobs are unique, rewarding and adventurous, but there is also an element of danger.  We were all reminded recently of how dangerous law enforcement is, especially conservation law enforcement, after FWC Officer Vann Streety was shot multiple times while investigating a suspicious situation and attempting to arrest a man on a warrant for traffic violations.

vann streety 200.gifOfficer Streety was on routine patrol – which is an oxymoron, because by the very nature of law enforcement it is never routine.  Streety was doing what officers do on patrol:  searching for evidence of crimes or criminals and working to make the woods, waters, communities and anything in between safe.  Hundreds of times, Officer Streety would have been in a similar situation – checking out something that didn’t seem quite right.  This time, though, when the gunsmoke cleared, the officer was seriously wounded and the perpetrator was on the run.

What ensued was a manhunt for the shooter by many law enforcement agencies.  Fortunately, a few days after the shooting, a Melbourne Beach police officer caught the suspect as he was breaking into a vehicle.

While some may imagine the work of a conservation officer involves sunny days among butterflies, mellow animals and happy-to-see-you people, in reality many days are not so sunny and neither animals nor people are happy to see them.  Although officers may enjoy their jobs – nonetheless, it involves risk.

The very nature of conservation law enforcement is especially dangerous.  Conservation officers can enforce every law of the state – not just fish and wildlife laws.  Therefore, when they encounter something suspicious they don’t call it in or walk away; they investigate it.  Conservation officers are typically by themselves; backup may be many miles away; and they are mostly in remote areas in the woods or on the water.  Still, they do the job, because it needs to be done and they are the type that gets the job done.

Officer Vann Streety survived.  I, on behalf of the FWC, would like to thank all of the law enforcement agencies who assisted Vann on the evening he was shot and assisted in the search for the shooter.  We would also like to thank the paramedics, the hospital and other medical personnel who kept Vann with us.  He is a fine man, and we would have hated to lose him.  Equally appreciated were the many agencies, private and non-profit organizations who contributed to a reward towards finding the perpetrator.  Last, but not least, thanks to all of you who had kind words, thoughts and prayers for Vann.

This article originally published on August 5, 2009.

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17-foot Burmese Python Caught in Okeechobee County

by Gabriella B. Ferraro, FWC

burmese python august 2009 2 300.gifA 17-foot-2-inch Burmese python was caught and destroyed on private property in Okeechobee County Thursday afternoon.  The male snake weighed 207 pounds, and measured 26 inches in diameter.  Its stomach contents were examined, but nothing identifiable was found inside.

Officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) scanned the python but did not find a microchip.  As a Reptile of Concern, Burmese pythons must be licensed by FWC's Captive Wildlife Section and implanted with a microchip to be kept as a pet.

FWC worked with the Florida Legislature and the reptile industry to establish and implement tighter restrictions in 2007 to help prevent the escape or release of these exotic species.  The new rule requires an annual $100 license and mandatory caging requirements. In addition, Burmese pythons more than 2 inches in diameter must be implanted with a microchip that identifies the origin of the animal.  This rule applies to all Reptiles of Concern, which include Burmese pythons, Indian pythons, reticulated pythons, African rock pythons, amethystine or scrub pythons, green anacondas and Nile monitor lizards.  It is unlawful to allow one to escape or to release one into the wild.

{sidebar id=1}“The capture of this large python shows us how well these snakes can thrive in the wild and create a dangerous situation after illegal release or escape,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.  “It also illustrates why the FWC is partnering with other agencies to implement python control measures in South Florida.  We will continue to push for additional measures to control the spread of Burmese pythons in the Everglades where they are reproducing in large numbers.”

On July 17, the FWC launched a permit program, allowing reptile experts to capture and euthanize Burmese pythons on state-managed lands around the Everglades.  To date, seven permits have been issued and five pythons have been captured.  Several more permits will be issued in the coming weeks.  The permit holders must collect data on captured pythons and submit that information to the FWC.

The program continues until Oct. 31, at which time the FWC will analyze the data and determine if the program should be extended or expanded.

Pictured:  Staff from an animal hospital hold the python that was caught on the facility's property. 

(Photo courtesy of Okeechobee Veterinary Hospital)

This article originally published on August 1, 2009.

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Deer Crashes through Windshield; Driver and Passenger Have Minor Injuries

news_09_nw_deercrashcar 275.gifAn 84-year-old Panama City woman and her son received minor injuries Wednesday after a six-point white-tailed deer hit their car on Edwards Road in Bay County, careening through the windshield.

Rachel Thompson, who lives on Conrad Point on Deer Point Lake, was driving east on Edwards Road about one mile east of Highway 77 at 10 a.m. when the 125- to 130-pound buck deer collided with her 1996 Oldsmobile 88.  The deer hit the car in the left front quarter panel and windshield, breaking the windshield and ending up in the front seat between her and a son, Charles Alvin “Al” Thompson.

The velvet-antlered buck was killed on impact.

Rachel Thompson was transported by ambulance to Gulf Coast Community Hospital, treated for head injuries and released.  Al Thompson, who lives in north Bay County, was treated for minor cuts.

This article originally published on July 30, 2009.

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FWC Featured Creature:  Sea Turtles

Helping Florida’s sea turtles survive requires beach responsibility; Leave only footprints and keep beaches dark

Ancient creatures of the sea fight a battle each year to reproduce and survive in a world not always hospitable to them.  Sea turtles nesting on Florida’s beaches face an uncertain future, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) scientists.  Threats come from encroachment on nesting beaches by coastal development and encounters with pollutants, beach debris and fishing gear. 

sea turtle digging on beach 300.gifA leatherback sea turtle digs a nest on a Florida beach while a young boy practices responsible beach behavior by not disturbing the female’s nesting patterns. The leatherback is the largest living turtle, reaching a weight of 2,000 pounds in some cases. (FWC photo)

Five species of sea turtles nest on Florida beaches, with the loggerhead showing up in the largest numbers.  Green and leatherback sea turtles also nest in the Sunshine State.  Two other species, Kemp’s Ridley and hawksbill sea turtles nest infrequently in Florida but inhabit Florida waters.  The FWC lists the loggerhead as a threatened species with the other four listed as endangered.

However, the loggerhead’s status could change because of data collected showing a downward trend since 1998.  During the 2007 April to September nesting season, scientists found the lowest number of loggerhead nests in 19 years.  At the same time, the number of loggerheads found dead, sick or injured each year in Florida has more than doubled during the past decade.  “If we don’t do something to reverse this trend, the loggerhead will also become endangered,” said Robbin Trindell, an FWC Imperiled Species Program administrator.

baby sea turtle 150.gifA loggerhead sea turtle hatchling heads to the ocean after hatching out of its nest.  The loggerhead is the most common of Florida’s sea turtles.  By the time this hatchling reaches the adult state, it will have increased its weightmore than 6,000 times. (FWC photo)

Nearly 90 percent of the loggerhead population that nests in the southeastern United States, nests on Florida’s beaches.  This population is one of only two large loggerhead nesting populations worldwide.  Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles well-suited for sea life with a hydrodynamic-shaped shell,   large and powerful front flippers.  These physical characteristics enable them to dive deep into the ocean and to swim long distances.

Female loggerhead turtles begin coming on shore in the spring with peak months for laying eggs in June and July.  The nesting female digs a hole with her hind flippers and then lays approximately 115 eggs.  After covering the nest with sand, the massive creature, weighing nearly 300 pounds, makes her way back to the ocean.  A female might come ashore two to five times during the nesting season.  Amazingly, the females come back to the same beach where they hatched decades earlier.  The males, once they make the long crawl after hatching out of the egg, never return to land.

correct beach lighting info 175.gifMajor disturbances to sea turtle nesting habits come from seawalls and beach nourishment projects.  Individuals can help by following safe beach lighting suggestions, filling holes dug for sand castles and picking up litter.  “Just one light can kill thousands of turtles over several years,” Trindell said. “Many lights burn all night, without contributing to human safety.” 

Late in the summer, after an incubation of 55-70 days, the hatchlings begin breaking out of their shells and crawling out of the nest. Instinct tells the 1- to 2-inch hatchling to head toward the brightest horizon and away from dark silhouettes.  In days long gone in Florida, the brightest horizon shone over the ocean, and the hatchlings would move away from the shadows on the dunes and begin the crawl to the sea.  Nest predators might include raccoons, ghost crabs and fire ants. 

wildlife alert info 200.gifIn modern-day Florida, hatchlings must crawl through a battlefi eld of debris left by humans.  Furniture discarded  by beachgoers can obstruct a nesting female turtle or become a trap for the hatchlings.  Avoiding firework leftovers strewn along the hatchling’s path can cause exhaustion and delay in getting to the water.  If stranded on the beach when the sun rises, the hatchling’s chance for survival diminishes and dehydration and sun exposure become hazards.

“We can all help sea turtles survive,” Trindell said. “If we just take personal responsibility, we can go a long way to ensure the sea turtle co-exists with us for many more years to come.”

Buy a plate or decal and help sea turtles lay on the beach

The sea turtle hatchling displayed on the Florida specialty license plate does more than just adorn the bumper of a car.  The purchase of the specialty tag goes a long way to help protect this living fossil from extinction.  The fees collected go directly into sea turtle research and conservation.  The loggerhead hatchling represents hope for a safe passage from the nest to the water, a dangerous endeavor for a 1- to 2-inch creature.

sea turtle license plate 250.gifPurchasing a specialty tag helps fund the Sea Turtle Grants Program, which distributes funds each year to support sea turtle research, conservation and education programs.  Approximately 30 percent is distributed to the grants program, which is administered by the non-profit Caribbean Conservation Corporation.  The other 70 percent of the funding generated by sales of the tag goes to the FWC’s Marine Turtle Protection Program to support research and management activities related to sea turtles.

sea turtle decal.gifSince 1992, the sea turtle also has been featured on boat registration decals that have helped fund research and conservation efforts.  These decals  can be purchased for $5 each, as a voluntary add-on to boat registration fees or from the FWC’s Web site, .  The newest decal features a Kemp’s Ridley turtle by FWC artist Liz West.

Sea turtle license plates may be purchased at any authorized motor vehicle office, such as Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, local tax collector’s office or a licensed tag agent or go to .  Decals may be purchased at .

Dedicated to learning more about ancient creatures of the sea

Blair Witherington keeps a close watch on sea turtles.  Witherington returned from Oman, a country in the Middle East, in April excited about the future of loggerhead turtles, despite discouraging news in Florida from nesting counts in 2007.

Witherington, a research scientist with the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), studies sea turtles daily.  “The loggerhead population is in serious decline,” Witherington said. “Eighty percent of the world’s loggerheads nest on beaches in Florida and on the island of Masirah in the Indian  Ocean off the coast of Oman.”

diver with sea turtle 150.gifBlair Witherington holds a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, one of the rarest turtles in the world, as he and his team conduct research off the coast of Florida. (FWC photo)

In Florida, the loggerhead is the most common sea turtle.  But worldwide, the loggerhead is rare, said Witherington,  who went to Masirah to help set up a monitoring program for the threatened reptile, similar to what Florida uses on its 33 index nesting beaches. 

Witherington coordinates Florida’s Index Nesting Beach Survey, which is conducted annually from May 15 to Aug. 31.  The process involves volunteers who go out before sunrise each morning, seven  days a week during the nesting season.  Volunteers monitor nests laid during the night and report false crawls – signs of a sea turtle’s flippers in the sand but no nest. “There are indications that there may be declining numbers in the loggerhead population in Masirah as well,”  Witherington said.  “But we need reliable data to determine it conclusively.”

Witherington received his Ph.D. from the University of Florida, and his dissertation addressed the orientation of  hatchling sea turtles and the effect of light on their journey to the sea.  “If they head in the wrong direction, they die,” Witherington said of the effect of direct lighting on the beach.

Counties and municipalities in the majority of the sea turtle nesting areas in Florida now have ordinances in place for lighting management, something that brings a smile to Witherington’s face.  “This is absolutely a success story in Florida,” he said.  “We have made headway in conservation efforts for sea turtles.”

Witherington also conducts neo-natal research.  For years, scientists have called the posthatchling’s first year, “the  lost year” because no one knew where the hatchlings went once they made it to the ocean from the nesting beach. Witherington and his team discovered that hatchling loggerheads and green turtles migrate out to the floating,  open-ocean sargassum (seaweed) community offshore from nesting beaches.

They also found hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles that are approximately a year old.  “It’s very exciting to find small Kemp’s Ridley because they are the rarest of sea turtles,” he said.  “We usually see large juveniles or adults swimming in Florida’s waters.”

While concerns remain about the loggerhead’s survival, Witherington believes the work done by the FWC and other groups, such as the U.S. Fish and  Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, will help conserve this giant reptile.  “I work with a team of skilled and well-informed people,” he said.  And the team extends beyond the FWC with more than 2,000 people in the state doing nesting counts and conveying conservation  messages.  “Florida would be much poorer without our sea turtles,” Witherington said.

To learn more about sea turtles, visit FWC’s Web site at .


This article originally published on July 19, 2009.

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Cross City Man Dies in Scalloping Accident Near Steinhatchee

A Cross City man died Friday after being injured in a boating accident in the Gulf of Mexico near Steinhatchee.

Charles D. Sheppard (DOB 02/08/49) was snorkeling southwest of Rocky Creek when he was struck by a vessel operated by Jeffery A. Tucker (DOB 09/30/64) of Ocala.

Tucker and the other occupants of his vessel retrieved Sheppard from the water, attempted first aid and transported him to Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials.  Emergency medical personnel were not able to save Sheppard.

The other passengers on Tucker’s 2005 22-foot Hurricane deck boat included Tamara A. Tucker  (DOB 07/25/72), Michael C. Wiglesworth (DOB 10/04/65), Nicole F. Wiglesworth (DOB 04/16/66), Mark D. Baines (DOB 07/24/65), and Jeanne Baines (DOB 06/23/68), along with six children. All are from Ocala.

In addition to the FWC responding to the scene Friday afternoon, officials from the Dixie County Sheriff’s Office and Fire/Rescue and the Florida Highway Patrol also were on the scene.

FWC investigators continue to investigate the accident.

This information originally published on July 20, 2009.

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FWC Featured Creature:  Florida Black Bear

Experts address the bare facts on living with Florida’s black bear; residents can help by keeping yards free of animal attractants  

Florida’s black bear adapts quickly to its changing environment, which may be its greatest asset as well as its greatest downfall.  Diminishing habitats in  Florida have led to more instances of black bears in backyards, pools and garbage cans seeking an easy source of food and water.  While seeing a bear for the first time creates an opportunity for the shutterbug, it also causes concern for some people who do not understand the behavior and habits of the Florida black bear, Florida’s largest land mammal and a subspecies of the American black bear.

black bear lounging 300.gifAdult black bears typically weigh 150 to 400 pounds. The largest male bear on record in Florida weighed 624 pounds; the largest female weighed 342 pounds. (FWC photo)

Unfortunately, if a bear finds a source of food that is easily accessible, such as a garbage can or a dog’s food dish left on the back porch, the bear will  keep coming back, regardless of human activity in the vicinity.  Encouraging bears to associate humans with food – no matter how unintentional – may result in a death sentence for the bear.  When bears become accustomed to this convenient way of finding food, situations can occur where bears may act in an aggressive way in their efforts to secure food.  Then wildlife officials may have to intervene and euthanize bears that have become too  comfortable in the presence of people.

Stephanie Simek, Black Bear Management Program coordinator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), advises that the responsibility for keeping bears and people safe requires an effort on the part of residents, as well as government entities.  “If you are attracting opossums and raccoons into your yard, you can also attract bears,” Simek said.  “Keeping garbage and food away from all wild animals is everyone’s responsibility.”

black bear in foliage 150.gif

Florida bears are black with a brown muzzle and may have a white chest marking called a blaze. (FWC photo)

The Florida black bear exists in fragmented populations throughout the state.  However, with diminished habitat from encroaching development and the human population continually increasing in the state, human-bear interactions are occurring more frequently.  The FWC recognizes the  importance of addressing the role of people to ensure that encounters with bears remain a positive experience.

Presently the FWC receives a multitude of calls from residents regarding bears, particularly in counties in the greater Orlando area, around the Ocala  National Forest and in the Panhandle.  Joy Hill, FWC spokesperson for the Northeast Region, says answering residents’ calls requires a balancing act. “The black bear is a threatened species in Florida,” Hill said.  “So we have to manage these human-bear interactions while maintaining a biologically  and socially acceptable bear population.  The FWC continually tries new ways to address these situations, but the best way to help lessen negative encounters requires residents to take responsibility for wildlife attractants that may be in their own back yard.”

black bear feeding info.gifThe FWC’s Web site provides downloadable instructions for building bear-resistant trash container caddies and for installing electric fences at .  In addition, some communities in Franklin County in the Panhandle and Collier County in Southwest Florida are taking initiatives  to put wildlife-resistant trash containers in schools, public parks and residential communities.  These efforts prevent bears from making trash containers their source for meals and cut down on the number of negative human-bear encounters.  To find out about wildlife-resistant trash containers, visit FWC’s Web site for links to manufacturers and distributors.

Anyone who experiences bear problems should contact the nearest FWC regional office.  The phone number can be found in the State Government section of the phone book.  “Black bears are not generally aggressive, even when confronted by humans,” Hill said.  “However, they are large and powerful wild animals that need to be respected.”

Support bear conservation: buy a wildlife specialty tag

black bear license plate 200.gifThe Florida black bear graces the Conserve Wildlife specialty license plate as a symbol for many of the species that will benefi t from the purchase
of this plate.  Florida’s black bear uses a mixture of habitats that contain nut-, fruit- and berry-producing shrubs and trees.  They live in eight main  areas, from the Panhandle’s Eglin Air Force Base and the Apalachicola National Forest, to the Osceola and Ocala national forests in North and Central Florida, all the way down to the Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida.

black bear what to do in encounter.gifFlorida is home to a great diversity of wildlife species from alligators to roseate spoonbills.  Yet the state’s development and population growth pose formidable challenges to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) mission of conserving the state’s fish and wildlife resources.  As Florida’s primary wildlife agency, the FWC is responsible for managing and conserving Florida’s wildlife and its habitats.  The Conserve Wildlife license plate was created to generate additional revenue to conduct the programs aimed at conserving Florida’s natural heritage. 

The Conserve  Wildlife license plate costs $17 more than a regular plate, with $15 of that going directly to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Inc., a not-forprofit organization supporting the activities of the FWC.  The Wildlife Foundation places special emphasis on projects involving the Florida black bear.  Survival of this species depends in part on conservation and management of its habitat, which in turn benefits many other wildlife species.

Conserve Wildlife license plates may be purchased at any authorized motor vehicle office, such as Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, local tax collector’s office, , or a licensed tag agent or by visiting .

To learn more about the Florida black bear, visit FWC’s Web site at .


This article originally published on July 19, 2009.

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FWC Chairman Comments on Agency's Officer Getting Shot

vann streety 200.gif“Though the job of a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officer is very rewarding, it is inherently dangerous,” said Chairman Rodney Barreto, chairman of the FWC. “Last night, while in a remote area checking for poaching violations, one of our officers was shot repeatedly, and we are reminded just how dangerous law enforcement, particularly conservation law enforcement, is.”

These words come in the aftermath of the shooting involving FWC Officer Vann Streety, who was shot six times. Various law-enforcement agencies are searching for Christopher A. Eddy, DOB 05/13/86, of Rockledge, in connection with the shooting. Streety allegedly stopped Eddy at a popular fishing and poaching location in Brevard County. A struggle ensued, and Eddy reportedly shot the officer. Streety was attempting to arrest Eddy for several warrants on traffic violations.

The officer is undergoing surgery and the prognosis is guarded, but good. He is a 10-year FWC veteran.

“There is no other brotherhood like that which exists in the law enforcement community,” Barreto said. “We are very grateful for the quick and thorough response from our law enforcement partners in pursuing this matter and working to apprehend the perpetrator.”

The FWC, Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol, U.S. Marshals Service and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service are involved in the search for Eddy.

“Our hearts go out to the family of Officer Streety, and he is in our thoughts and prayers,” Barreto said. “We are like family in the FWC, and we are all concerned and pulling for Vann.”

Anyone having information as to the whereabouts of Eddy is encouraged to call the Crime Line at 1-800-423-TIPPS (8477).  

This article originally published on July 19, 2009.

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Wounded FWC Officer in Stable Condition and Good Spirits

vann streety 200.gifA Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officer, who sustained multiple gunshot wounds while patrolling in Brevard County Wednesday, is in stable condition and good spirits, according to FWC spokeswoman Carol Pratt.

Officer Vann Streety, a 10-year FWC veteran, was shot near the intersection of Satellite Boulevard and State Road 520 in Brevard County.

After Streety stopped Christopher A. Eddy (DOB 05/13/86), of 1214 Applecreek Lane in Rockledge, the officer attempted to arrest Eddy on warrants issued from Brevard County for multiple traffic violations. A struggle ensued during which Streety was shot many times.

Though Streety was wearing a bulletproof vest, he sustained gunshot wounds to his limbs and torso. Streety’s injuries are not life threatening.

The FWC, the Brevard County Sheriff’’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service are searching for Eddy.

Streety remains hospitalized at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne where he underwent surgery Thursday.

Streety was born in Leon County where he graduated from Leon High School in 1984. He worked as a dispatcher for the FWC for several years before becoming an officer in 2001 after attending the first FWC Academy.

The 42-year-old officer is married and has three children.

His father, Vann “Gene,” and stepmother live in Crawfordville. His mother, Ethel Donaldson-Mast, and stepfather live in Palatka. He has three sisters and one brother.

Anyone having information as to the whereabouts of Eddy is encouraged to call the Crime Line at 1-800-423-TIPPS (8477).

This information originally published on July 19, 2009.

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9-Foot Burmese Python Bagged on Day 1 of Permit Program

Armed with snake hooks and nets, a group of reptile experts selected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to participate in the state’s python permit program captured a 9-foot, 8-inch Burmese python.  The volunteer permit holders spotted the python in water underneath a boardwalk leading to a camp on a tree island. It was later euthanized.

{sidebar id=1}“Honestly, I was surprised.  I did not expect to see a Burmese python today,” said Shawn Heflick of Palm Bay, one of the permit holders.  “We hope our success today helps us establish connections with airboat operators and sportsmen out here in the ’Glades.  They can tell us where these snakes are, so we can go out and find them.”

The FWC’s Burmese python permit program kicked off Friday.  It allows permit holders to search for pythons on several FWC wildlife management areas and lands managed by the South Florida Water Management District.

“Today’s success in the field points to the professionalism and experience of our permit holders,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.  “We thank Gov. Charlie Crist for supporting this program.  Today’s outcome shows that we do have a serious Burmese python problem, and this program is a good first step in helping to stop the spread of this exotic species.” 

To date, the FWC has issued permits to five people to participate in the program. Permit holders must already have a Reptile of Concern permit. The FWC screens them before issuing permits for participation in this program.  When permit holders capture and euthanize a python, they must report its GPS location and take a digital photo of the carcass.  They must also fill out a data collection sheet and submit it to the FWC.  If they wish to do so, permit holders may sell the snake’s hide and meat.  

The python permit program runs from July 17 to Oct. 31, at which time the FWC will evaluate the data collected and determine if it should extend or expand the program.

This article originally published on July 17, 2009.

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FWC Begins Burmese Python Permit Program

A program to begin addressing the invasion of Burmese pythons in the Everglades begins on Friday, July 17. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) initiated a permit program that will allow herpetology experts to go into state-managed lands in South Florida and search for and euthanize Burmese pythons and other Reptiles of Concern.

{sidebar id=1}FWC staff screened the participants in this initial program. All permit holders are required to provide the FWC with GPS locations of each captured python and to take a digital photo. The FWC will then study the data, which will include location, size and stomach contents, to help further understand the spread of this nonnative species. Armed with data, the FWC can share valuable information with the U.S. Geological Survey and Everglades National Park, which are investigating the behavior and biology of the Burmese python for a better understanding of the snake’s requirements for survival. This knowledge can help eradicate the Burmese python from Florida.

“One Burmese python is too many,” said Scott Hardin, FWC’s Exotic Species Section leader. “We hope this program is the basis for a larger, expanded program that will aid us in preventing the spread of this species.”

The permits for the first phase of this program go from July 17 to Oct. 31. The FWC will then evaluate expanding the program

““This is a good way to collect information critical to finding the best way to eradicate this harmful snake,” said Nick Wiley, FWC’s assistant executive director. “This is a strategic and responsible approach to begin solving the problem of pythons in Florida.”

This article originally published on July 16, 2009.

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The Wildlife Forecast:  Lessen the Impact of Climate Change; Go Native (by Patricia Behnke)

wildlife forecast for article heading.gif
By Patricia Behnke
Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission


Lessen the Impact of Climate Change - Go Native

A healthy ecosystem requires a delicate balancing act among all species. Florida’s sometimes fragile ecosystems are poised on a balance beam as a growing population and changing climate challenge wildlife managers.

Florida’s environment complicates the issues, because it is a welcoming host to invasive plant species. It also covers two climate zones – subtropical and temperate, allowing some invasive species to invade other regions with impunity.

{sidebar id=1}According to a 2006 report from the U.S. Geological Survey on invasive species and climate change, “If climates change, then new invasive species may disperse into novel climate regions.”

The report urges managers on the edge of an invasive species’ range to be aggressive in treating the spread of those nonnative species that take over a region and hold ecosystems hostage in a battle with native species for supremacy.

“Highly disturbed landscapes are more prone to invasion by nonnative plant species,” said Don Schmitz with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Invasive Plant Management Section. “Just look at the Everglades – a highly disturbed ecosystem. Disturbance has left it more prone to invasives, such as the Brazilian pepper plant.”

The growth of the nonnative Brazilian pepper has damaged mangroves, and as predicted sea-level changes occur, the mangroves will feel some of the first effects. The invasion of Brazilian pepper creates a battlefield in the mangrove communities. And quite a community it is – mangroves support all manner of flora and fauna in the Everglades and other brackish estuaries along the coast. Without mangroves, a variety of wildlife also would vanish, including invertebrates, fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Florida softshell turtles and alligators; bobcats and manatees; cattle egrets and brown pelicans; snook and cobia – all of these species and many more call the mangroves home and depend upon their foliage, roots and shelter for sustenance.

The FWC recently published a report on its climate change summit held last year. One of the summit’s workshops dealt with the effects of invasive organisms on biodiversity during climate change. Greg Holder, the FWC’s Southwest Region regional director, led the workshop.

“If we are to do a good job of restricting the movement of invasive species when the opportunities arise, we will need to be vigilant and more fully understand the potential impacts on native habitats and species,” Holder stated.

{sidebar id=1}That’s a tall order for a state with a warm and moist climate, which will only be enhanced by the changes in climate, but wildlife managers in Florida are following the suggested practices of the U.S. Geological Survey by aggressively controlling some of the more-invasive invasives. The Old World climbing fern is an invasive that can cover and smother native species and act as a fire ladder into native tree canopies that normally wouldn’t burn during Florida’s common ground fires. The FWC’s Invasive Plant Management Section funded nearly $1 million in development and introduction of a moth that preliminary field research indicates will destroy the ability of this fern to form dense canopies that destroy native tree communities. The research has been led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with funding support from the FWC and the South Florida Water Management District.

The USDA spent five years host-testing in Australia and Florida before introducing the moth at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, in Martin County, in January 2008. The USDA reported in January 2009, “During the year since the moth’s release and subsequent release at two other sites in the park, it has developed very large numbers and has begun to subdue the weed through the activities of its leaf-feeding caterpillars.”

It is true that environmental and wildlife managers must do their part on a large scale, but as individuals, we can do our part to lessen their load.

“Folks can begin by not planting nonnative plants and replace invasive and nonnatives already in the yard with native species,” Schmitz said. “We have to start somewhere, and this is one instance where it really can begin in our own backyard.”

The National Invasive Species Council 2008 management plan states that, “Reducing the negative impacts of invasive species should better enable natural ecosystems to withstand the threats of climate change.”

If that’s the case, we are standing steady on the balance beam in Florida – protecting one plant, one species, one ecosystem at a time.

This article originally published on July 14, 2009.

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FWC Requests Comments on First Draft of Imperiled Species Listing Changes

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) seeks public input on the first draft of rules to revise Florida’s imperiled species listing process.

{sidebar id=1}The Commission directed staff at the June Commission meeting to revise the imperiled species listing process and other tools for managing imperiled species.

Dr. Elsa Haubold of the FWC has led the team that has studied the imperiled species listing process since December 2007, with the goal of creating a new process, understood and supported by the public. The draft rules are intended to focus efforts on conserving imperiled species rather than focusing on the listing designation of a particular species.

“We concentrated on how we manage the species to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, the risk of extinction for these rare species,” Haubold said. “It’s all about how we conserve species and not about what we call them. But we need the public’s help to make sure we get these rules right, and since these are drafts rules, they can be changed.”

Written comments via e-mail will be accepted until 11:59 p.m., July 24, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. FWC staff will consider input received from stakeholders and the public to revise the draft.  The revised draft rules will be presented at the Commission meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 9, in Howey-in-the-Hills. After the staff receives direction from the Commission in September, the public will again be asked to provide input to help create the final rules, which could be considered by the Commission at the December meeting.

Click here for a .pdf file of the draft rules.

This information originally published on July 14, 2009.

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Public Health Resource Guide on Harmful Algal Blooms Now Available

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Health recently released a new tool to assist local health officials when responding to harmful algal blooms in Florida.  The Resource Guide for Public Health Response to Harmful Algal Blooms in Florida addresses critical HAB issues that may affect the health of Florida’s residents and visitors and recommends procedures to handle events and minimize their impacts.

{sidebar id=1}In Florida, many species of harmful microscopic algae can affect fish and wildlife, and some can cause human illness. The guide is the first reference that compiles critical information related to these species as well as other harmful algal bloom issues in one easy-to-use source.

Along with suggested operating procedures, the guide includes background information on harmful algal blooms, descriptions of different potential scenarios and contact information for various bloom-related organizations.

In addition to being a go-to reference for health officials, the guide provides easy-to-read information for the public to learn about this topic.

Based on recommendations from the Public Health Technical Panel of Florida’s Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, scientists and managers developed the guide to meet the critical need for this resource.

The guide is available at

For more information on harmful algal blooms in Florida, visit or

This information originally published on July 13, 2009.

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Active Bears Roam for Food and Mates in the Summer

A woman in Lehigh Acres in Lee County had a surprise Monday morning when she encountered a black bear outside of her work. Del Bagwell told officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) she was working at Country Cleaners in the Sunshine Plaza when she went outside at approximately 7:20 a.m. A black bear came running around the corner of the building and bumped into her.

“She was not knocked to the ground or injured,” said FWC Officer Joanne Adams. “She said she looked at the bear, and the bear looked at her. Then she raised her arms and backed up slowly to the store door.”

{sidebar id=1}Bagwell then went inside the store and the bear ran off, Adams said.

“Ms. Bagwell did the right thing,” said Dave Telesco, FWC Bear Management Program coordinator. “She did not panic or run; she backed away slowly, giving the bear a clear escape route to run away.”

Seeing a bear in unfamiliar surroundings can be a surprising phenomenon. Even though the Florida black bear has increased in population in the past few decades, it is still considered a threatened species in Florida. As development encroaches on its habitat, it is not unusual for bears to be seen near human populations, but it is highly unusual for humans to come face-to-face with a bear.

However, if you do encounter a black bear at close range, take the following precautions: Remain standing straight up; back up slowly; speak in a calm, assertive voice; do not run or play dead; and leave the bear a clear escape route.

Summer is a very active time for bears. They are searching for a variety of fruits and other seasonal foods that grow throughout their range. Summer is also breeding season, when bears search far and wide for mates. Also, in late summer, juvenile bears disperse from their mother’s home range and look for new habitat. All of those factors can bring bears into populated areas where they normally would not venture.

When wildlife appears in residential communities, the FWC urges residents to remove or secure anything that might attract animals, such as garbage cans, pet food, birdseed, outdoor grills and compost bins. If a bear continues to come into an area after all attractants have been removed and creates problems for residents, then the FWC will consider trapping the bear. Capturing bears is an option in circumstances where bears are causing a conflict or there is a safety risk.

Residents may call any FWC regional office, if they have any questions about bears, or they may call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 to report wildlife conflicts.

This article originally published on July 13, 2009.

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FWC announces publication of Climate Change Summit Report

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hosted “Florida’s Wildlife: On the front line of climate change” summit in Orlando last year and recently published a report on the event.

The report summarizes information from presentations and discussions in the workshops conducted during the summit in Orlando in October 2008. It also identifies some of the concerns that emerged after three days of discussions about potential impacts of climate change for Florida’s fish and wildlife resources.

{sidebar id=1}Climate change experts from around the state and country attended the summit to share their knowledge of how to manage fish and wildlife as the climate changes. Keynote speakers included two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Drs. Virginia Burkett and Jean Brennan.

This summit was the first one in the nation to put a fish and wildlife face on climate change to help managers understand specifically what climate change may mean for Florida panthers, manatees, gopher tortoises and other species. The summit ended with a set of suggested actions, which included management strategies that are dynamic, environmentally sensitive, conservation-focused and Florida-specific.

Florida’s geography and diverse ecosystems place the state in a frontline position for experiencing the effects of climate change, making it a key place to learn about the impacts of climate change on fish and wildlife.

Workshop leaders synthesized the summit’s conclusions with a vision of Florida “where protected healthy, functional, adaptive and richly diverse connected ecosystems are in balance with the needs of people.”

FWC Executive Director Ken Haddad established a Climate Change Steering Committee almost immediately after the summit. This committee is charged with integrating climate change into the FWC’s agency structure to manage fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people.

“The FWC is committed to developing a comprehensive plan of action for Florida to address the impacts of climate change on its fish and wildlife resources,” Haddad said. “Our summit was the first step in helping the FWC develop climate change strategies to ensure the best possible future for Florida’s wildlife.”

The steering committee has appointed several agency teams on climate change. As they develop materials, the FWC’s Climate Change Web site will host informative pieces on the work being done to manage wildlife for resiliency and adaptation. Visit and click on “Climate Change: Wildlife on the front line.”

This article originally published on June 18, 2009.

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Waste Pro and FWC Partner to Keep Bears Away from Garbage

bear in trash cans 200.gifKeeping garbage out of the paws of bears has just gotten a little easier for some folks in Franklin County in the Panhandle, thanks to Waste Pro, a little grant money and concerned residents. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hopes this initial effort becomes the model for other communities throughout the state where humans live in close proximity to bear habitat and other wildlife.

In 2008, the FWC received more than 2,700 calls concerning bears; 34 percent of those reported bears getting into garbage. In Franklin County, almost half of the calls reported bears in garbage.

“The high percentage of calls involving garbage illustrates an opportunity to work closely with waste-service providers, residents and local governments to reduce conflicts that result from bears coming into neighborhoods,” said Dave Telesco, the FWC’s bear management program coordinator. “Unsecured garbage attracts feral cats and dogs, raccoons, foxes, opossums, bears and other wildlife. Securing garbage in wildlife-resistant containers can go a long way toward preventing wildlife from trashing your yard.”

The FWC works to educate the public about the dangers of leaving garbage and other attractants unsecured and urges residents to keep garbage secured so wildlife does not have the opportunity to feast on leftovers.

bear on trash can 200.gifWhile wildlife-resistant containers are an excellent tool in reducing conflicts, the cans are expensive, and they are often not available for individual purchase. It falls to the waste-service provider to take on those extra costs to offer some relief to their customers. Waste Pro voluntarily ordered the wildlife-resistant cans and began distributing them to interested residents in Franklin County on June 1.

Because of the added costs for these containers, Waste Pro is charging $5 per month in addition to the regular monthly service charge. The FWC’s bear management program partnered with Waste Pro to help offset the additional costs to residents. With funds from a grant from the Wildlife Foundation of Florida, the FWC gave $6,000 to Waste Pro to allow the first 200 customers who sign up for the wildlife-resistant containers to have the cans serviced without the additional charge for the first six months.

“We’ve made an investment in this community to help them with their bear problems,” said Ralph Mills, regional vice president of Waste Pro. “We’re pleased we can work with the FWC and our customers to provide the tools they need to deal with the situation.”

Habitat loss threatens Florida’s wildlife, and, as a result, it is now common for black bears to appear in residential neighborhoods where food is easy to get. Residents face a two-fold problem: They are responsible for cleaning up the mess made by the wildlife, and they face close encounters with wild animals.

People can minimize or eliminate these problems by securing attractants such as garbage in wildlife-resistant containers and by removing or cleaning up other attractants in the yard. If followed, these simple changes can be successful in protecting the health of Florida’s diverse wildlife and its residents.

The FWC is working with waste-service providers, such as Waste Pro, across the state to implement cost-effective solutions to this shared problem.

For more information on wildlife-resistant containers and to find out what you can do to avoid bear conflicts, go to Franklin County homeowners interested in the wildlife-resistant containers offered by Waste Pro can call 850-670-8800 or visit their Web site at

This information originally published on June 10, 2009.

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The Wildlife Forecast:  Watch the Coral Reefs for Effects of Climate Change (by Patricia Behnke)

wildlife forecast for article heading.gif
By Patricia Behnke
Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission


Watch the Coral Reefs for Effects of Climate Change

Images of red and purple coral with darting blue and orange fish dance in my imagination when I think of Florida’s coral reefs. My dreams turn to nightmares, however, when I study the forecasts for the precious and important habitat.

“The coral reefs are the sentinel for climate change,” said Patty Glick from the National Wildlife Federation and author of “Preparing for a Sea Change in Florida.” “And in the Caribbean and Florida we’re already seeing the signs.”

{sidebar id=1}Coral reefs are called the “rain forests of the sea” because of the number of species they harbor. They cover only 0.07 percent of the ocean’s floor, but they are home to one-quarter of the world’s fish and marine species.

The creation of a coral reef is a complicated process and takes thousands of years. Yet with increasing sea temperatures a reality, coral bleaching could wipe them all out by the end of this century.

The vibrant colors of the corals are actually caused by algae that feed the coral. High temperatures create stress, and the coral expels the algae. When this “bleaching” occurs, the coral loses its color.

“Coral is highly sensitive to temperatures at higher thresholds,” Glick said. “When bleaching occurs, it means the coral is starving to death.”

So what do we do? Glick suggests we can begin by urging our elected officials to pass laws and regulations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Personally, we can do all those common-sense things that reduce pollution. And when enjoying the beauty of Florida’s reefs, we must view, not touch.

The most extensive living coral reef in the United States lies adjacent to the Florida Keys, serving as the first line of defense during storms, protecting our beaches from further erosion. They may offer a form of human protection, too. Corals may be home to medicines that hold the cure for today’s incurable diseases. The limestone deposits of the coral could become invaluable as a source for surgical bone replacements. The natural sunscreen of the coral is being studied by scientists around the world.

But for how long? One of the first effects of global warming may very well attack the sea before we see visible effects on the land. Rising sea temperatures are already having an impact.

“The Tropical Atlantic region’s temperatures have risen 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past three decades,” Glick said. “A full degree may not seem like a lot, but coral is highly sensitive, so it is very detrimental.”

Should we give up and rush out now to see a dying ecosystem? As we make our own personal sacrifices, rest assured there are groups doing something now. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project monitors the condition of coral reefs annually throughout the Florida Keys, Southeast Florida and the Dry Tortugas.

{sidebar id=1}“The focus of our monitoring is to observe changes in coral cover over time,” said Rob Ruzicka with the FWC’s coral reef program. “We document changes in status and trends of the coral reef sites we monitor for the managers at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the National Park Service.”

Places such as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary help educate the public about the importance of reefs.  The Nature Conservancy’s Florida Reef Resiliency Program identifies the resilient areas of the reefs and studies why those areas have been able to survive and revive.

In 2008, the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute was one of the sponsors of the International Coral Reef Symposium, which brought together the world’s top scientists, conservationists, economists and educators to advance coral reef science, management and conservation. Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill at the symposium that eliminated the use of ocean outfalls for wastewater disposal in Southeast Florida.

“Coral reefs are extraordinary living ecosystems that draw visitors, support our economy and protect our beaches and homes from erosion and storm surge,” Crist said in a press release. “Florida will continue to take steps, such as new legislation reducing nutrients and other pollutants in the ocean, which will protect these sensitive ecosystems for residents and visitors for generations to come,”

According to the FWC, reef-related expenditures generate billions of dollars in sales and provide thousands of jobs in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Environmentally and economically, we can not afford to lose our coral reefs.

The forecast for our coral reefs may seem bleak, but if we do our part to support the programs that pursue their conservation, we may find we’ve slowed things down just enough to ensure the coral reefs survive for our grandkids.

This article originally published on May 27, 2009.

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FWC to Beachgoers:  Do Not Disturb Nesting Birds

tern on sign 125.gifDuring the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds beachgoers statewide to be mindful of nesting birds. The eggs and chicks of nesting birds are delicate and susceptible to harm from disturbances that cause adults to fly off the nests.

“Just approaching a bird is enough to flush it away from its nest,” said Ricardo Zambrano, an FWC biologist. “When birds fly off their eggs, it exposes the chicks to predators.”

Injuries to unprotected eggs or chicks can happen quickly, either from predators or even from the intense heat of direct sunlight.

Sun worshipers can help protect the birds by moving parties, picnics or fireworks away from nesting areas.

nesting snowy plover 200.gifThis time of year, a variety of protected birds nest on Florida’s beaches, including terns, black skimmers, snowy plovers and Wilson’s plovers.

The FWC and other agencies posted signs earlier this year around many nesting areas on Florida’s beaches. These closed areas protect nesting birds from unnecessary disturbances and prevent humans from stepping on their nests. All of these species nest in the open and lay well-camouflaged eggs directly on the sand, making them nearly invisible to predators and to the untrained human eye.

“We need the public’s help in protecting these spectacular birds while enjoying the beach," Zambrano said. "Beach-nesting birds are part of Florida’s unique natural heritage."

For more information on nesting shorebirds, go to .

Photo of snowy plover by Nancy Douglass

This information originally published on May 21, 2009.

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FWC Announces 2009-2010 Manatee Decal Art Winner

2009 decal winner 175.gifThe Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) received 86 art entries in the manatee decal contest for 2009-2010. The FWC announced on Monday that Deanna Parsons, an 11th grader at Rockledge High School in Brevard County, won the top honor of having her painting used in the design of the FWC’s manatee decal this year.

The winning art depicts a face view of the manatee. Parsons’ watercolor featured tints of light blue and green as the backdrop.

“I believe the manatee to be a magnificent animal, and it’s one of my favorite sea creatures,” Parsons said. “I wanted this manatee to be near the surface of the water, where the sunlight is free to play on the animal’s skin as it pleases, creating a beautiful effect.”

The theme for this year’s contest was “Rescue Me!” That message tops the decal. The bottom contains the Wildlife Alert number people should call to report sick, injured, entangled or orphaned manatees.

It is fitting that the contest winner is from Brevard County, which records a high number of manatee rescues or recoveries each year. Rockledge High School had several students place in the final round of the FWC’s 18th annual Manatee Decal Art Contest.

The top six statewide finalists include:

First place – Deanna Parsons, Rockledge High School, Brevard County;

Second place – Sara Kuta, Rockledge High School, Brevard County;

Second place – Maria Perez, Pembroke Pines Charter High School, Broward County;

Third place – Taylor Gentle, Rockledge High School, Brevard County;

Third place – Johnny Hobbs, Olympia High School, Orange County;

Third place – Christina Jensen, Lake Mary High School, Seminole County.

{sidebar id=1}County tax collectors’ offices throughout the state distribute the manatee decals. Anyone choosing to donate $5 or more to manatee conservation receives a decal. Proceeds support manatee research, recovery, rehabilitation, management and educational programs administered through the FWC’s Save the Manatee Trust Fund. Decals with artwork designed by last year’s winner, Austyn Bynon, are available at county tax collectors’ offices through the end of June. Parsons’ winning design becomes available in July and will be available through June 2010.

The FWC’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Lab and research field staff respond to statewide calls regarding sick, injured, entangled or orphaned manatees. Personnel from various agencies and organizations work with FWC biologists to rescue and transport manatees to rehabilitation facilities around the state or to recover dead manatees for research purposes. To report a distressed manatee, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

For more information on Florida’s manatees, go to .

This article originally published on May 19, 2009.

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May 16 - 22 is National Safe Boating Week in Florida

Although Florida’s boating season never really ends, National Safe Boating Week  and Memorial Day weekend mark the traditional beginning around the country. On Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Crist and Cabinet members passed a resolution proclaiming May 16-22 National Safe Boating Week in Florida.

At the Cabinet meeting, Col. Julie Jones, director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement, and Rear Adm. Steve Branham, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Seventh District, used the recognition of National Safe Boating Week to speak about their combined boating safety efforts in Florida.

{sidebar id=1}Jones expressed excitement that state boating fatalities dropped 30 percent from 2007 to 2008 but warned that much work remains.

“Friends and families of the victims remind us daily that we still have a lot of work to do,” Jones said.

“Always, always, wear your life jacket and ‘Boat Responsibly,’” Branham said, echoing a safe-boating motto.

He also stressed the importance of filing a float plan, having a working VHF marine radio on board and purchasing a distress signal known as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or EPIRB.

Both Jones and Branham encouraged all boaters to take time to concentrate on executing simple, but effective steps to make their experience safer, like staying focused while operating a boat and getting one of the new, comfortable, inflatable life jackets – and wearing it all the time while on the water.

Branham demonstrated the user-friendly features of inflatable life jackets for the governor and Cabinet members.

“We live in the greatest boating state in the nation,” Jones said, “and we intend to see that it just gets better, and safer – for all of us to enjoy.

“The FWC recognizes National Safe Boating Week as part of its commitment to continue making boating safer in Florida,” Jones noted. “The best ways to avoid boating accidents and fatalities is for the captain to pay attention and for all aboard to wear life jackets.”

This article originally published on May 17, 2009.

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Boating Fatality Statistics Have Improved, but Could be Better

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has released the boating accident statistics for 2008, and fortunately, there were fewer boating fatalities last year. The reported 54 fatalities represent a 30-percent reduction from the 2007 statistics. While this is a step in the right direction, boaters shouldn’t let their guard down, according to the FWC.

{sidebar id=1}“Although boating fatalities were down in 2008, so far in 2009, 21 people have lost their lives on the state’s waters,” said Lt. Ed Cates of the FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section. “Boaters can be safer by following a few simple boating safety tips.”

Most boating accidents occur when someone isn’t paying attention or is driving too fast. Cates cautions boaters to slow down and stay alert to their surroundings.

Drowning is the leading cause of boating fatalities, even though most of the victims reportedly knew how to swim.

“The greatest way to ensure that you and your passengers make it home at the end of the day is to get into the habit of wearing a life jacket,” Cates said.    

He also said boaters should be especially careful when consuming alcoholic beverages.

The FWC also suggests that if going offshore, boaters should invest in an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon so rescuers can find them promptly in the event of trouble.

“We want boaters to have fun and return home safely,” Cates said.

For more information on the 2008 boating statistics, visit the Boating area of the FWC’s Web site: .

This article originally published on May 11, 2009.

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The Wildlife Forecast:  Going Green; It's Easier Than You Might Think (by Patricia Behnke)

wildlife forecast for article heading.gif
By Patricia Behnke
Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission


Going Green:  It's Easier Thank You Might Think

“Go green” taps us on the shoulder wherever we turn these days. We all know it’s a good thing when we see it, but do we really know what it means?

Any talk about going green inevitably leads to our carbon footprint -- the amount of carbon dioxide our activities emit into the atmosphere. I decided to check out my individual footprint online. Using a carbon footprint calculator, I discovered what I’m contributing to climate change. The results gave me some things to consider.

I recently attended a conference in Orlando billed as a “green” conference. Organizers donated money to a fund to plant native trees in parks and wildlife refuges for the carbon offset.

{sidebar id=1}For this particular conference in Florida, trees were planted in a forest in the Midwest.

Fine concept, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to “go green” right in the same backyard where the carbon footprint had been left? I discovered a project that keeps it local and does more than donate funds.

It started when The Wildlife Society’s Florida Chapter wondered how to offset the carbon impacts from its 2008 National Conference in Miami.

"We wanted to do more than merely contribute funds to a project that might not be compatible with our long-term objectives for biological diversity,” said Jay Exum with the society. “We felt it important to enhance biological diversity and environmental resiliency – an important component of lessening the impacts associated with climate change.”

Diverse habitat and wildlife provides greater opportunity for resiliency, something the biologists passionately speak about when addressing the impacts of climate change on wildlife.

“We also wanted the project to be as local as possible,” Exum said. “A proposal from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wildlife Legacy Initiative fit the objectives of our vision.”

Peacock Springs, near Live Oak, held all the keys to a perfect project funded by the State Wildlife Grants Program. The sandhill site, managed by the Suwannee River Water Management District, lacked longleaf pines, wiregrass and wildfires - all necessary components of this ecosystem.

Longleaf pines are crucial to the sandhill landscape. The trees are fire resistant and can live for 500 years. Their expansive root system keeps them in place during hurricane-force winds.

Historically, annual summer fires burned through this ecosystem, burning plants closest to the ground, but leaving the tall longleaf pines intact. When fires are suppressed, the ecosystem balance becomes skewed.

{sidebar id=1}Wiregrass, growing in huge bunches low to the ground in sandhill habitats, is the perfect fuel for the fires. It also nestles other low-growing plants and supports wildlife at the base of the food chain. Without the wiregrass, other plant species cannot exist; and without the other plants, their seeds, flowers and fruits cannot provide sustenance for insects and other tiny wildlife. Without those tiny members of the animal kingdom, animals further up the food chain do not have the food they need to exist.

The planting of longleaf pines began in February. Next, workers will plant wiregrass. Prescribed burns will further the restoration process.

How does all this relate to climate change and wildlife in Florida? Without healthy habitats, no matter how rural and non-urbanized, wildlife cannot adapt or survive what is in store as the climate changes.

“A project like this one at Peacock Springs restores an important Florida ecosystem and builds resiliency into the landscape,” said Doug Parsons of the FWC’s Climate Change Team. “It’s going to help us get through these long-term changes as the climate warms.”

What I discovered about my own personal carbon footprint shocked me. Using a carbon footprint calculator on The Nature Conservancy’s Web site, , I determined my estimated greenhouse gas emissions exceed the national average, and I thought I was carbon-conservative. Traveling – flying and driving – really drove up my footprint. I need to make some changes now, because the experts agree that we can not stop climate change; at this point, we can only lessen its impact. I can contribute to a carbon offset program, lessen my personal footprint or plant a native tree in my backyard. In 70 years, that tree will help offset my footprint now.

Look in your own backyard for your carbon footprint. If we follow the lead of The Wildlife Society, footprints in the sand may only leave an impression ‑ not a deep hole.

Contact Patricia Behnke at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This article originally published on April 29, 2009.

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