Wildlife officers' duties change after attacks

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Wildlife officers¹ duties changed after attacks.

By RON MATUS, Gainesville Sun staff writer.

Could manatees be Osama bin Laden's next victims?

Maybe. Indirectly.

Because the nation is in a state of high alert, law enforcement officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are doing more these days than checking fishing licenses and busting deer poachers.

They're also patrolling nuclear power plants and beefing up security details at ports, harbors and other sensitive areas.

As a result, some of their usual duties "will be curtailed," said Joy Hill, spokeswoman for the commission's Ocala regional office.

Commission officials said most of the agency's nearly 700 officers will be affected by the need for anti-terrorism patrols.

Hill said outreach efforts will be the first to suffer. There won't be as many officers going to schools and fairs. Beyond that? Hill said it's impossible to say.

A program to help manatees has already suffered.

Commission officials said Tuesday they're postponing efforts to publicly announce, in advance, patrols in manatee protection zones -- an effort similar to highway patrol checkpoints -- in Brevard and Lee counties.

Hill said the program will be postponed "until all this is over."

Dewey Weaver, spokesman for the regional office in Lake City, said so far, only two to three officers per day in North Central Florida have been shifted to other duties -- in this case, patrolling the nuclear power plant in Crystal River.

"We're doing all right," he said.

Commission officers also take on additional duties during floods, hurricanes and other emergencies.

Some environmentalists have been saying for years that the commission needs more officers and better enforcement. But perhaps in light of recent national security woes, they're not going public with any concerns about the officers' new job responsibilities.

Said Nancy Sadusky, spokeswoman for the Save the Manatee Club: "We realize resources have to be shifted."

Ron Matus can be reached at (352) 374-5087 or ron.matus@gainesvillesun.com.
 

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