Fish, wildlife agency is mindful of future
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission may only be 12 years old, but it thinks and acts like a well-established state environmental agency.
“Our mission is to protect wildlife for our generation and generations to come, for the well-being of the wildlife as well as the human population,” said Wendy Dial, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s community relations representative.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has been a state agency since July 1, 1999. Not only does it manage a variety of fish and wildlife, it also focuses on hunting and game management and habitat conservation. The organization has a staff of 1,947 full-time employees.
The commission headquarters are in Tallahassee, with regional offices in Panama City, Lake City, Ocala, Lakeland and West Palm Beach. Staff members in the 76 field offices also help to protect more than 1,200 types of wildlife and fish on behalf of 19 million Florida residents and millions of visitors.
Law enforcement and management are two of the largest segments of the agency’s program. The commission regulates boating, hunting and freshwater and salt water fishing. It also is charged with educating boaters about manatees, diving safety and vessel equipment.
The commission maintains more than 200 boat access sites. Construction of boat ramps and boat access is funded by federal funds that are collected from taxes on fishing tackle and motor fuel and import duties on tackle and yachts.
Among the targeted animals by the 239,000 hunters in Florida are the Florida alligator, white-tailed deer, the mourning dove, ducks and waterfowls, quail, the Osceola turkey, wild hogs, small game and some non-game animals.
“Hunting is a valuable tool to control certain animal populations,” said Tony Young, community relations coordinator for the Division of Hunting and Game Management. “Sometimes the population might get a little low, and we either cut back on hunting or do away with it.”
Florida has a limited entry hunting program that prevents overcrowding. Permits are available online at myfwc.com.
“Hunters are definitely some of the biggest conservationists,” Young said. “A lot of the money that hunters pay for licenses, permits and even taxes on hunting equipment goes towards purchasing large tracks of undeveloped land.”
The commission provides fish identification charts and fishing sites and forecasts, and does ongoing research of the fish populations. It suggests that all anglers buy fishing licenses.
Some of the most challenging aspects of the program involve dealing with habitat, water levels, water quality and aquatic plants, according Bob Wattendorf, federal aid and special projects coordinator for the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
“Our biologists work with both the appropriate agencies and directly hands-on to ensure that there is a healthy habitat for fish all the way up and down the ecological spectrum,” he said.
There are designated seasons in which the public can fish.
Another section of the commission is dedicated to managing plants, species and their habitats.
The commission provides education, resources and policies that make conservation possible.
“We really truly do try to give as much opportunity to the hunters and the fishermen as we can while still maintaining adequate populations of fish and wildlife,’’ Young said. “Our agency strives for balance.”