TALLAHASSEE - Florida’s residents and visitors continue to benefit from strong conservation initiatives.
Last year Gov. DeSantis charged the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and partners to increase their battle against nonnative invasive species, such as the Burmese python and lionfish. In order to raise awareness of this pressing issue, the FWC and the South Florida Water Management District took to a national and international stage during the Super Bowl LIV Environmental Village in January. Also, the FWC and SFWMD made additional strides to positively impact the ecosystems of the Everglades and south Florida by aligning and expanding upon their contractor program to remove pythons from the wild. Working together, the FWC’s Python Action Team and the SFWMD’s Python Elimination Program have removed more than 6,200 invasive pythons since program’s inception in spring 2017. By October 2020, the program removed more Burmese Pythons than in all of 2019 and set a record for the longest Burmese python ever removed from the wild in Florida – a huge 18-foot, 9-inch female Burmese python.
“Gov. DeSantis has been a leader for conservation since day one,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. “Under his leadership, we continue to make a difference in the fight against invasive species while providing more access and opportunities for visitors and residents to enjoy the outdoors.”
“We want to conserve our natural resources and restore the Everglades, Florida Bay and Florida’s coral reefs so future generations can enjoy the Fishing Capital of the World and, with support from Gov. DeSantis, I am confident we are on the right path,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. “Gov. DeSantis’ announcements of two additional fall Gulf red snapper seasons this year is just one example of a conservation success.”
Below are some additional highlights from 2020:
• Acquiring Orange Hammock, a new Wildlife Management Area in Sarasota County, and adding approximately 17,508 acres to existing WMAs across Florida. This provides Floridians with increased access to a wide range of hunting, fishing and wildlife recreation opportunities.
• Completing restoration and enhancement projects on more than 1,700,000 acres of lakes, rivers and wetlands, improving important habitat for fish and wildlife as well as improving access for residents and visitors enjoying these areas.
• Implementing the State Reef Fish Survey, developed to provide more robust data for management of red snapper and other important reef fish, has allowed the FWC an unprecedented opportunity to manage Gulf red snapper in state and federal waters and is increasing data on the Atlantic coast as well.
• Concluding an interstate investigation with multiple arrests of poachers conducting a transnational wildlife trafficking operation involving freshwater turtles and alligator as well as thousands of native flying squirrels that were illegally shipped overseas, totaling $1 million in retail value.
• Providing a virtual Commission meeting and workshop format for stakeholders and partners to participate in and share comments during COVID-19.
• Offering a 45-day Gulf red snapper summer season (June 11-July 25) and additional fall weekend opportunities on Oct. 17, 18, 24, 25, 31, Nov. 1, 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29 as a result of data collected under the State Reef Fish Survey. The Gulf red snapper season provides opportunities for anglers while boosting local economies throughout the Gulf Coast.
• Funding three priority proposals that address recommendations of the Red Tide Task Force appointed by Gov. DeSantis in 2019 to improve red tide communications and advance technologies for real time detection of red tide.
• Providing over 75 new hunting opportunities through the Youth Hunting Program for deer, wild hogs, small game and more. These mentored hunts provide youth who have never hunted before with opportunities to learn about conservation and gain new outdoor skills.
• Removing over 21,500 lionfish from Florida waters during a 5-month lionfish challenge.
• Opening the Headwaters Boat Ramp at Fellesmere Water Management Area in Indian River County in partnership with the St. John’s River Water Management District. This highly anticipated boat ramp, parking area and restrooms provide anglers access to 10,000 acres of prime sport fishing stocked with nearly 2 million sport fish, including 1 million largemouth bass.
• Opening the rifle and handgun ranges at Palm Beach Shooting Sports Complex. This range is still under construction but, when finished, this state-of-the-art facility will safely support the needs of hunters, hunter safety students and target shooters.
• Recognizing anglers who submitted 22 Hall of Fame largemouth bass that were caught, documented and released back into Florida’s waters. The TrophyCatch recognition program promotes trophy bass fishing in Florida as well as provides biologists with data needed for management decisions.
• Celebrating approximately 700 anglers who submitted a total of 5,000 fish to reach nearly 2,700 achievements in the Catch a Florida Memory program, which encourages anglers to target a diverse range of saltwater fish species, thereby reducing pressure on the most commonly sought-after catches.
• Providing almost 2 million fishing licenses and 145,000 hunting licenses to residents and visitors.
• Launching a new online tool – WMA Finder – to help people search for hunting, fishing, camping, horseback riding and shooting range opportunities on Florida’s WMA system.
Because of these accomplishments, Florida’s economy will continue to prosper, and residents and visitors will have many opportunities to enjoy all of Florida’s great outdoors.
For more information about these and other fish and wildlife conservation projects, visit MyFWC.com.