Fish and wildlife on shaky ground

A one-paragraph sidebar in the news caught our attention. Tuesday, the same thing occurred when we saw that Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff was leaving and that her salary was around $40,000 higher than the governors. It just begged a closer look.


Today we see that one of seven Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioners (FWC) is leaving and that Scott has tapped a former Department of Environmental Protection head,Mike Sole, to fill the void in August. When we think DEP, we think of wildlife and wild places — so the fit seems right for a seat at Florida’s agency tasked with regulating hunting, fishing and so much more.

That meant something was amiss.

Scott had totally emasculated the DEP of anyone with environmental expertise or conscience. So how did this new guy find his way to FWC commission? Well…

Turns out the former DEP head left public service in 2010 and since holds down a $350,000 a year job as vice-president of Florida Power & Light.

When we think FPL, or most any large corporation, we don’t picture a steward of all things wild. So we took a look at the other members of the commission to uncover their environmental pedigrees.

n Commissioner Charles Roberts III is who Sole will replace. According to news reports he was selected over 20 other applicants, including two with FWC experience and one who headed the Florida Wildlife Federation. But the Panhandle contractor with a history of environmental violations and campaign contributions to Gov. Rick Scott made the cut. Scott makes these appointments.

n Commissioner Robert Spottswood was previously tapped by Scott to sit on the Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding. He is a Key West developer and contributor to Scott and his PAC.

n Commissioner Brian Yablonski, who chairs the commission, is the external affairs officer for Gulf Power Company. According to reports, he is also an adjunct fellow for the Property and Environment Research Center whose goal is described on its website as being “dedicated to original research on market approaches to resolving environmental problems.” We read that as monetizing federal and state lands.

n Commissioner Leisa Priddy is an Immokalee cattle rancher who made headlines a couple of years back when she fought protection for the extremely rare Florida Panther. Sources then wrote that some of her calves got eaten in the wild, supposedly by panthers. She an active GOP donor.

n Commissioner Richard Hanas is senior vice president for corporate administration of A. Duda and Sons, which holds massive land tracts. He also donated to Scott’s campaign chest.

n Commissioner Bo Rivard is past president of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce. In 2009 he made headlines as owner of a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, by suing the Bay County Health Department for posting messages to digital billboards, warning against the ingestion of junk food. He is also a registered lobbyist for HCA Healthcare, Rick Scott’s former company, fined $1.7 billion for bilking seniors in Medicaid or Medicaid schemes. He’s a big donor to Republican candidates.

n Commissioner Ron Bergeron is a developer and a contractor, but he wears a cowboy hat even when folks aren’t looking, and his history of campaign contributions seem to be split pretty evenly between the parties. He was also the sole commissioner who spoke out against black bear hunts last year — and is likely the only member to have ever dealt with one in the wild. May his tribe increase.

It is clear that the bulk of Gov. Scott’s appointees have a lot more than red bass spawning or whitetail deer mortality issues on their minds — and much more experience in killing open spaces than managing them for the public good, and that of the plants and animals living there.