FWC marks 10th anniversary


Mar 11, 2001
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FWC marks 10th anniversary


Ten years ago, Florida created a new conservation agency to take a twenty-first century approach to managing the state's wildlife and freshwater and marine resources. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) took on that challenge July 1, 1999.

The FWC won't observe the anniversary with any external festivities, but its leaders and employees are taking time to reflect on changes the agency has gone through during its first decade of existence.

Since 2002, the agency has worked to update its structure and operations, and Executive Director Ken Haddad has directed FWC leaders to motivate and train employees to set new standards for efficiency, effectiveness and customer service.

"Restructuring the agency's components helped coordinate and hone the FWC's operations," Haddad said. "Law enforcement officers who previously specialized in marine patrols or inland patrols cross-trained to work in both environments. Meanwhile, all the agency's research on wildlife and marine and aquatic life came together at the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute."

Other functions, such as licensing and permitting, modernized their equipment and procedures to be more user-friendly. License and permit sales went online. The FWC grew more diligent in encouraging stakeholder and public participation in the agency's decisions. It improved public access to decision makers.

"The FWC reflects a bold, new approach to conservation, applying renewed energy to search for solutions to challenging issues," FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said. "One of the keys to success has been promoting a sense of stewardship among Florida's residents."

The agency defined the challenges ahead in a 2008 report titled "Wildlife 2060: What's at stake for Florida?" The FWC identified landowner incentives as critical to preserving Florida's rich array of wildlife and meeting recovery goals for many species. It formed new partnerships with landowners and other private and governmental organizations to assist in habitat management, recovery and enhancement programs.

In 2004-05, Florida's Wildlife Legacy Initiative formed a broad network of partners to create a comprehensive strategy for wildlife and natural-area conservation.

"The FWC has completed new management plans to ensure red-cockaded woodpeckers, manatees, bald eagles and gopher tortoises receive adequate attention," Barreto said. "We were able to remove the bald eagle from the imperiled species list completely in 2008. Good things are happening."

The FWC created a new section to step up management of nonnative fish and wildlife and coordinate with other agencies. The results include tighter regulation of potentially harmful species and eradication programs for three species that already are rampant in parts of Florida.

The FWC also has assembled a stakeholder support group and undertaken long-term monitoring and habitat-improvement projects concerning freshwater fisheries. The new Florida Bass Conservation Center at Brooksville replaced the aging Richloam Fish Hatchery in 2007 with state-of-the-art facilities, where new research and production methods tripled bass, bream, catfish and feeder fish production.

The newly launched Get Outdoors Florida! coalition unites public and private partners to encourage and safeguard healthy outdoor recreational opportunities for future generations.

The FWC's Division of Marine Fisheries Management has teamed up with stakeholders over the past three years to hammer out a list of priorities to sustain productive fisheries and reap the economic benefits these resources deliver in Florida. Other marine fisheries key accomplishments during the agency's first decade include deployment of 1,573 artificial reefs (including the decommissioned U.S.S. Oriskany near Pensacola and assistance in the recent deployment of theU.S.S. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg near Key West), conducting Kids' Fishing Clinics for 35,537 participants and improving conservation measures for numerous species that require intense management.

"The FWC's Youth Hunter Education Challenge, started in 2008, is the most comprehensive youth hunting program in North America. It involves advanced training for 12- to18-year-olds who have completed a hunter safety course. In addition, the Youth Hunting Program of Florida treated 474 youths and parents to 32 sponsored hunts last year. The National Archery in the Schools Program has introduced 146,783 kids to archery and to the FWC since 2005, with help from theDepartment of Education.

Florida's conservation law enforcement officers find their jobs more demanding and complex than ever. Besides routine duties, the Division of Law Enforcement frequently mobilizes disaster response and domestic security missions.

The division recently earned certification from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. That accomplishment required FWC officers to measure up to the highest standards in their profession.

During the past 10 years, Florida has blossomed into the No. 1 tourism destination for wildlife viewers, and the FWC's Office of Recreation Services has assisted more than 50 communities in harnessing the industry's economic potential. In addition, the agency has partnered with thousands of volunteers and created the Great Florida Birding Trail, with 489 bird-watching sites that have attracted visitors from all over the world.

Scientific research guides FWC decisions. The agency's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute released more than 4 million red drum into Tampa Baybetween 2000 and 2004 in a pilot program to study the effects of stocking hatchery-raised fish into the wild. The institute and the FWC's support foundation - theWildlife Foundation of Florida - are three years into exploring a vision for a network of saltwater fish hatcheries in Florida and, with partner support, mapping outthe long-term health of the state's sport fisheries. More than 550 published works over the past 10 years document the findings of institute staff. Its research regarding red tide earned worldwide admiration from the scientific community.

The foundation has provided $6.225 million for nearly 200 FWC projects since 2005. It also provides emergency funding for the FWC to respond swiftly to unforeseen issues without diverting resources from other high-priority projects.

"When I look at all that's happened at the FWC over the past 10 years, I'm amazed at how all these parts work together," Barreto said. "And it happens in a team spirit that says, 'We have to be the best,' and we are."


Henry Cabbage (850) 488-8843

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