FWC Hires Scientist As New Director

Eric Sutton, a scientist on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s staff, has been named the agency’s new executive director.

He succeeds Nick Wiley, who recently announced he was leaving the agency to take a job with Ducks Unlimited in Tennessee.

Sutton formerly worked in the land management section at the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

I’ve worked with him in the past on a limited basis and found him to be a knowledgeable, serious and hard-working public official.

He has a background in working on endangered species issues.

His promotion is encouraging because the vast majority of Florida’s wildlife species are non-game species, which means they are not hunted or commercially exploited.

Managing those species, which range from familiar species such as the Florida panther and Florida manatee to less-familiar species such as a number of cryptic reptiles, rare plants and invertebrates, is one of the agency’s challenges. It will be more challenging as population growth and the pressures of the development and road-building lobbies put more pressure on natural habitats while funding to protect key parcels languishes in Tallahassee despite voter mandates to do otherwise.

The FWC is also getting some new faces on the commission. One of them is the wife of a former commissioner and another is the son of professional golfer and Trump supporter Jack Nicklaus. Still to be appointed by Gov. Rick Scott is a successor to commission member Brian Yablonski, who is resigning to take a job in another state.

How the new mix of wildlife commissioners will deal with the issues facing Florida’s wildlife will be something the environmental community should continue to monitor.

FWC Membership Makeup Changing

The makeup of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is poised for changes

Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointments on Friday afternoon, which is a typical tactic used in recent years to avoid immediate press scrutiny.

The new commissioners, subject to Senate confirmation, are Sonya Rood of St. Augustine, who is listed as a farm manager, and Gary Nicklaus of Jupiter, the son of professional golfer Jack Nicklaus, a major Donald Trump supporter.

They succeed Liesa Priddy, who drew attention for proposing allowing people to shoot Florida panthers to protect livestock at southwest Florida ranches, and Ron “Gator” Bergeron, who recently was featured in the news over his dismay that the Everglades floods following hurricanes.

Another upcoming vacancy to be filled will be the seat held by Brian Yablonski, who is leaving the state to take a job with a conservative Property and Environmental Research Center in Montana with whom he had previously served as a fellow.

Some of the most controversial issues before the FWC for the conservation will involve efforts to continue to protect the Florida panther and the Florida black bear, both of which have large habitat needs in an increasingly urbanizing state.

Furthermore, there is a need for FWC to review the methods for funding the agency to consider tapping the growing ecotourism user groups rather than the shrinking hook-and-bullet crowd.


Polk Trail Expansion Subject Of Tuesday Meetings

Expansion of the local trail system will be the topic of two public meetings Tuesday.

First, the County Commission will consider accepting a $200,000 grant to be used toward completing the final leg of the Panther Point Trail, which is depicted in the illustration below as the brown trail along the south end of Lake Hancock.

Construction is expected to begin sometime next year in connection with the construction of a new boat ramp to provide access to the lake. The ramp will be located on Saddle Creek south of the lake and just north of the new Southwest Florida Water Management District control structure.

Jeff Spence, Polk’s director of parks and natural resources, said there are future plans to add a loop that would go to Bartow Eagle Lake Road and connect to Ernest Smith Boulevard.

The item is on the 9 a.m. regular agenda.

In addition, the Florida Department of Transportation will host a workshop from 5 to 7 p.m. to discuss a study that could lead to construction of a new 12-mile recreational trail between Auburndale and Haines City. The meeting will occur at the Lake Alfred Lions Club, 175 N. Nekoma Ave.

The plan for the proposed Old Dixie Trail is to connect the trailhead for the TECO-Auburndale Trail with the Haines City Trail.

The meeting will be conducted in an open house format with consultants and FDOT officials available to answer questions about the project. Maps and other graphics will be available for the public to view.