September 27, 2020

Florida Wildlife Commission Cracks The Whip

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In Hernando Country along the Weeki Wachee River is the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area. This WMA has seen a lot of problems in the recent past from vandalism of an observation tower, to the destruction of a fence. Wildlife officers also say that a lot of criminal activity including illegal narcotics use takes place there.

So what did Florida Wildlife Commission officers do about it? They went out this past weekend and issued citations to 116 people who had not paid their donation to use the WMA. The citations are for petty theft, a second-degree misdemeanor that carries a $500 fine and/or 60 days in jail.

Lt. Roger Young, FWC Special Operations Commander had this to say:

“Trying to cut down on some of the criminal activity, the vandalism, some of the narcotics use that goes on in the wildlife management area, and the officers are out here just trying to show a presence to make sure that people that come here have a good enjoyable experience.”

While I applaud the FWC for making an attempt at cracking down on what’s going on there, I’m not sure I agree with the methods they are using to do so. When you multiply a $500 fine times 116 citations, that’s $58,000. Is that their objective to make some money for repairs to the WMA?

I agree that everyone who enters the WMA is supposed to pay a fee. That fact that this gets abused does not make it right. I believe that there are better ways of collecting fees for WMA use statewide but that’s a whole other discussion. And isn’t the punishment for not paying the meager fee a little extreme? What will those caught with drugs or vandalizing the property get for their crimes? A slap on the wrist?

I don’t want to dispute the fact that people were using the area without paying a required fee. It just seems more like a modern day grade school punishment – one or two people break the rules so punish the entire class.

To save money and remedy the problem, let’s gate the WMA and restrict access to one entrance. Then, pay a person to register and collect fees. Let’s face it, honesty at the gate and in our society is a lost cause. What might be collected in fees and saved in the potential thwarting of property damage, would probably pay that person’s salary.

I just don’t agree with the FWC’s approach to this problem. I may be wrong and their actions may be just what is needed to rid the area of the problems. We’ll see.

Tom Remington

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While we might not all do our hunting nowadays in the same way that fishing and hunting was done hundreds of years ago, there are still things we can learn from the fishing methods of people who used to hunt to keep themselves and their families alive.

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