The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is responsible for protecting Florida’s people and natural resources. Its Division of Law Enforcement is an integral part of the agency and bases its efforts on three specific core missions—public safety, resource protection, and boating enforcement.
The FWC works closely with other law enforcement agencies, but its officers are often the only law enforcement presence in the woods and waters of the state. In order to patrol these harsh environments, the FWC relies upon unique capabilities, training, and equipment.
The methods employed by FWC officers extend beyond traditional law enforcement roles. Not only do they conduct wilderness patrols, fisheries inspections, and boating safety checks, but they must also be creative in their efforts and active in their communities. They are always ready to respond to mutual aid requests, coordinate with stakeholders, educate the public, and inspire and cultivate the next generation of conservationists.
The Aviations Section is a crucial asset to the FWC and a prime example of the unique capabilities and equipment the FWC has. It plays a vital role in the FWC’s effort to enforce conservation and boating laws, protect endangered species, and safeguard outdoor users. This is achieved through conducting search-and-rescue missions, natural disaster response, and ecosystem management for the state of Florida.
The FWC has 13 field pilots based around the state in strategic response locations. Pilots patrol more than 74,000 square miles of the state’s land and waters and have responsibility, along with several federal agencies, over the zone that reaches 200 nautical miles out from Florida’s coastline. Each pilot is a sworn law enforcement officer with the ability to enforce all the laws of the state. When flying missions, the pilots frequently work with multiple law enforcement officers and agencies on the ground or water. The pilots direct them to violations, boating or hunting accidents, missing persons, injured wildlife or marine mammals, and suspicious activities, including homeland security threats, human/narcotic smuggling, and stolen boats. This increases the efficiency of the officers, since they don’t have to patrol large areas with no activity. In effect, the pilots act as “eyes in the sky” and “force multipliers” for the ground and water officers, making the most effective use of scarce assets.
On many search-and-rescue operations, FWC aircraft are the first to respond and locate disabled boaters in distress, boating accident victims, missing persons, or escaped prisoners in heavily wooded areas. They are the first to be activated by the State Emergency Response Team in Florida to perform reconnaissance in manmade or natural disasters.
FWC aircraft were significantly involved in the response effort to the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill. FWC helicopters and airplanes flew more than 590 hours, providing reconnaissance reports of the oil’s position and its impact upon Florida’s waters and shoreline.
In addition to the Deepwater Horizon, the FWC was first to provide assistance to the hard-hit area of Biloxi, Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina.
Some additional routine public safety examples include:
Through an agreement with MiamiFWC’s waterborne response teams in training. FWC can transport teams on aircraft Dade Fire Rescue Headquarters, the anywhere in the state in response to emergencies. FWC Bell Longranger helicopter working with an FWC Special Operations Group team in a fugitive manhunt training exercise. FWC Bell UH-1H (Huey) helicopter deploying an FWC Special Operations Group team in a tactical training group exercise. Winter 2011 13 FWC can be called upon to transport snake venom antidote from the MiamiDade Fire Rescue Venom Response Unit to other parts of the state. During the height of statewide inclement weather, when commercial airlines were not able to fly, an antivenin request was received due to a South American rattlesnake bite. The victim, in intensive care, only had a few-hour-window to receive the antivenin. FWC pilots, using Night Vision Goggles, Forward Looking Infrared and satellite weather avoidance equipment, successfully transported the antivenin in time for the victim to recover from the snake bite.
The FWC responded to an emergency call about two boys lost deep in a mangrove swamp with rising tidal waters. An FWC airplane responded, located the individuals, and directed FWC ground officers to their location to assist them back home.
The FWC responded to a missingperson call in which a subject’s vehicle was found but the individual was believed to be in an area of thick foliage. An FWC helicopter responded, located the individual and guided FWC ground officers to the location to render assistance.
FWC’s law enforcement resource protection flights assist in the manage ment of more than 575 species of wild life, 200 native species of freshwater fish, and 500 native species of saltwater fish and marine mammals. Patrol times vary greatly depending on the season of the year, new legislation, trends, envi ronmental impacts, and the specific area of the state. Some types of fishing violations tend to occur more often in particular parts of the state. FWC pilots look for lobster trap robbing violations in the Keys, rock shrimp fishing viola tions along the Oculina Bank on Flori da’s east coast, and violations of the net ban law in northwest Florida in the fall of the year during the mullet run. Pilots often patrol offshore shrimp “nursery exclusion zones” in northeast Florida and the Keys for commercial fishing violations. Also in the Florida Keys, the laws limiting harvesting of the Florida lobster are strictly enforced from the air.
Curtailment of illegal trap robbing is a major focus in the Keys, and the Partenavia P68 twin-engine airplane stationed in Marathon is a primary deterrent.
In the spring, FWC officers look for fields that are illegally baited for turkey. During the winter, pilots fly more often at night using night vision goggles to look for hunters who are illegally using spotlights to hunt deer. In Florida, hunters cannothave both a spotlight and a gun in a vehicle for night hunting.
In the Miami area, FWC enforces manatee protection zones from the air. Boaters in the protection zones must maintain idle speeds to avoid collisions with manatees because speeding boats cause serious injury and death to manatees in Florida every year.
The FWC also uses its helicopters to assist wildlife biologists with wildfire and ecosystem management. An aerial ignition device is used to start prescribed burning of woodland areas. This program greatly reduces the severity of wildfires in wildlife management areas.
For more information about the FWC, please visit its web site at www.myfwc.com. To report violations call Wildlife Alert at 1-888- 404-FWCC (3922).