The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recognized an artist, a prosecutor and an elementary school on Wednesday to open its meeting in Dania Beach.

For his diligent and hard work enforcing laws that protect Florida fish and wildlife resources, the FWC presented Monroe County Assistant State Attorney Patrick McCullah with the FWC’s “outstanding prosecutor award.”

McCullah leads the state attorney’s office in Marathon and has worked with FWC law enforcement officers more than 10 years.

“I am pleased and honored to be receiving this award,” McCullah said. “The protection of our natural resources in the Keys and statewide is, and always should be, a priority.”

Jim Antista, attorney for the FWC, said, “For many years, Mr. McCullah has skillfully handled a variety of criminal cases involving fish and wildlife. The FWC and the officers of the South Region believe Mr. McCullah is very deserving of this award.”

McCullah has advised and guided FWC officers in developing criminal enforcement cases, assisted in officer training, given special assistance to the FWC in investigation of derelict-vessel cases and given valuable input in improving the FWC’s procedures relating to derelict vessels.

Carey Chen shares his passion for fishing through his paintings, which capture marine life in its natural habitat. His work can be seen on boats, buildings and billboards all over South Florida.

The Commission recognized his contributions, which include raising money for youth fishing foundations and various other charities.

Chen is the featured artist for Florida Sportfishing magazine. Selections of Chen’s paintings are on display at the June 11-12 meeting at the International Game Fish Association Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum.

“I am very flattered,” Chen said. “I strive to create marine art in a healthy environment, and that’s the way it should be in the future.”

From critters to conservation, students at Greenacres Elementary School in Palm Beach County have learned all about protecting Florida’s natural resources. Commissioners recognized the school for its participation in the Project WILD program, a national education program.

The school is a charter member of the WILD Schools Program. Science coach Janice Kerber trained 10 other teachers to present conservation activities to more than 600 students.

“These are the types of committed individuals who make a difference to our fish and wildlife in Florida,” said Rodney Barreto, FWC chairman. “And the very best way to instill these conservation values is to begin with the children.”

FWC proposes new rules to thwart illegal release of nonnative fish and wildlife

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission proposed new rules on Wednesday that will provide options for non-licensed owners of nonnative species if they can no longer keep their pet.

“Release of exotic animals by pet owners remains a significant pathway for the introduction of nonnative species,” said the FWC’s Scott Hardin. “As a result, the FWC initiated a series of pet amnesty events to provide an option for owners of exotic pets to surrender their unwanted pets to responsible agencies or individuals instead of illegally releasing them.”

Although the FWC requires a captive wildlife permit for owners of many nonnatives, some owners do not follow the legal guidelines. When these pets become too much for the owners to handle, the FWC wants to ensure the animals don’t wind up in the wild where they may endanger Florida’s native fish and wildlife.

The proposed rule would allow, at FWC-sponsored amnesty events, owners of unlicensed fish and wildlife to surrender their animals, and for adopters to accept nonnative fish and wildlife from unlicensed individuals, without penalty. Allowing adopters to accept these fish and wildlife will be an exception to the current rule that prohibits transfers of unpermitted wildlife of any kind.

Another exception to the rule would allow state and county animal control agencies to accept unlicensed nonnative animals with the owners allowed to surrender those animals to the agencies without penalty.

The FWC has sponsored three amnesty day events, with the most recent one in February at the Miami Metro Zoo, where 148 animals were surrendered to the FWC.

The new rule and exceptions, if passed by the FWC at the September meeting in Jacksonville, will help prevent further releases of nonnative fish and wildlife into Florida’s diverse and fragile environment.

FWC considers prohibition on permanent duck blinds on four lakes

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, meeting today in Dania Beach, approved a draft rule prohibiting anyone from hunting in or near a permanent duck blind on four lakes near Tallahassee.

The lakes are Miccosukee, Iamonia, Carr and Jackson. Following final review of the draft rule at the FWC’s September meeting, the rule will take effect prior to the fall waterfowl season.

Under the rule, no one can duck hunt within 30 yards of a permanent blind. A permanent blind is defined as anything that provides shelter, cover or concealment for a hunter but does not include any rooted vegetation. Neither does it include any temporary blind used only while the hunter is present.

The FWC took action to ban hunting from permanent blinds on the four lakes as a result of continuing conflicts between the people who build them and claim ownership on sovereign state lands and others who use the same area. In addition, FWC officials say constructing the blinds on public lakes is a violation of existing Florida Statutes.

FWC proposes limits for freshwater turtle harvests

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission proposed a draft rule on Wednesday that will set new limits for the harvest of freshwater turtles. The proposed change will be up for final action by the Commission at the Sept. 17-19 meeting in Jacksonville.

The new rule would limit the harvest of native Florida freshwater turtles to five per day to protect freshwater turtle populations while the FWC develops a long-term comprehensive strategy for sustainable use of amphibian and reptile populations. Current possession limits for turtle species will not change.

“The FWC staff is aware of increasing demand for freshwater turtles nationally and internationally,” said Bill Turner, an FWC amphibian and reptile specialist. “We are evaluating our management of these animals to ensure these populations aren’t over-exploited because of these demands.”

Alabama, Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas recently restricted their turtle harvests, which may cause turtle harvesters from those states to focus on Florida, Turner said.

In March, the FWC received two petitions for emergency rule-making to restrict freshwater turtle harvests, but these emergency measures last only 90 days. Instead, the FWC opted for this draft rule as an interim measure.

FWC biologist honored with award for aquatic conservation

Michael Hill, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, received the Richard Coleman Aquatic Resources Award from the Florida Lake Management Society at the organization’s conference Wednesday in Destin.

The award recognizes a professional who has worked to restore, protect and/or advance the public’s understanding of Florida’s aquatic resources.

Hill works for the FWC in the Panhandle region of Florida, developing and managing restoration projects in lakes, rivers and streams.

“We’re extremely proud of him,” said David Douglas, Hill’s supervisor. “He’s worked diligently in improving aquatic habitat in the Panhandle.”

Recent accomplishments include the removal of a dam on a steephead stream of the Apalachicola River in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy. That project reflects what can be done in other parts of Florida where thousands of dams create a fragmented habitat harmful to fish and wildlife.

Hill also worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Eglin Air Force Base, Douglas said. The work done there in restoring aquatic habitat resulted in the Okaloosa darter’s population recovering so well it is to be delisted as an endangered species.

“I’m flattered,” Hill said. “When I looked at the list of past recipients of this award and saw my mentors had received it, I was even more honored.”

The Florida Lake Management Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection, enhancement, conservation, restoration and management of Florida’s aquatic resources. Hill, a 30-year veteran with the FWC, works in the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation in the Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration Section.

Peregrine falcon study concludes the species has recovered

A study titled “Biological status report for the peregrine falcon” concluded that the peregrine falcon should come off Florida’s list of endangered species. In fact, the report by three noted bird experts and reviewed by five others, concluded peregrine falcons have recovered to the point they don’t fit any of the requirements for listing in any category of imperiled species.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission heard a staff presentation about the report Wednesday, during its meeting in Dania Beach. Commissioners directed the agency’s staff to develop a management plan to ensure the peregrine falcon’s continued recovery and present it to the Commissioners next year for adoption. The management plan is the final step in the process of changing a species’ classification, including removing the species from the imperiled species list.

Scientists who conducted the biological status report included James A. Rodgers of the FWC, Kenneth D. Meyer of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute and Brian A. Millsap of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Reviewers included Keith L. Bildstien of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, James H. Enderson of Colorado College, Casey A. Lott of Hawk Watch international, Inc., Clayton W. White of Brigham Young University and Kathryn E. Sieving of the University of Florida.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the peregrine falcon from the federal endangered species list in 1999.

FWC suggests life jackets as Father’s Day gift

What better gift than one that is life-saving? The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a suggestion for the perfect gift for Dad. Give him the life-saving gift of an inflatable life jacket for Father’s Day. You’ll make his day…and the gift might save his life some day.

The FWC investigates many of the boating accidents in Florida. So far this year, boating accidents have resulted in 16 people drowning. Most of these deaths could have been prevented had the victim been wearing a life jacket.

“We are doing our best to get boaters to wear life jackets all the time while on the water,” said Capt. Richard Moore, FWC’s boating law administrator. “Life jacket technology has improved tremendously, and there are new inflatable life jackets which are more comfortable than traditional jackets and would make great presents.”

One compact style straps around the waist like a belt pack. Another style fits like suspenders over the shoulders. Some of these life jackets inflate automatically when a person falls into the water. Prices of the new, comfortable, inflatable life jackets start at around $60.

West Marine, Inc. has partnered with the FWC in support of the Wear It Florida campaign, which encourages life jacket wear by Florida’s boaters. More information on the campaign is available at

“The best present anyone can receive is one that shows you care,” Moore said. “Giving a life jacket as a present may save the life of your loved one.”

From Staff and Wire Reports