Petition asking DeSantis to Reign in FWC Reaches 12,000 Signatures
A Change.org petition asking Governor Ron DeSantis to address stakeholder complaints and reign in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has received 12,000 signatures since it was posted two weeks ago by “Florida Animal Owners and Businesses.” The petition has garnered widespread support from keepers of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and invertebrates. See the text of the petition below:
*IMPORTANT: Only sign this petition if you are a Florida resident.*
The failure of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to work with animal owners on rules that balance the interests of stakeholders with conservation needs has created a tragic situation leading to unjustifiable personal property seizures, euthanasia of animals, denial of licenses, and severe economic impacts to businesses, especially small businesses. Our industries and hobbies are being systematically eroded by an ideology to remove animals from our lives.
The adoption of unjust regulations in 2021 has already caused some business owners to flee the state as economic refugees. This year, FWC approved a package of harsh regulations that make it more difficult for animal owners to transfer their personal property, in addition to other implications posing serious constitutional questions. FWC staff is currently considering the creation of a biased “Safe List” that would be the most devastating blow to animal keepers yet. This would allow only a restricted list of species to be kept while banning all others. It would set a new standard for extreme government overreach in Florida.
We, the undersigned Florida residents, respectfully request that your office review these matters to address constituent complaints that have fallen on deaf ears when reported. If the review reveals any misconduct, we ask that a full investigation be performed by the Office of Inspector General or other appropriate entity. Furthermore, we appeal for the restructuring of FWC as an agency that genuinely collaborates with animal keepers and business owners.
Animal keepers remember a time when Staff, the Commissioners, and the stakeholders worked together on reasonable regulations for animal welfare, human safety, and conservation of natural resources. A recent policy shift has created a palpable divide between FWC and those who responsibly own and work with animals in Florida. FWC leadership no longer considers industry expertise in the creation of sound policy. There is a blatant disregard for the impact that destroying Florida’s unique animal industries will have on the State’s economic future.
The owners of reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals come together with one voice to ask you, Governor DeSantis, to please direct FWC to suspend its harsh mandates that threaten our livelihoods and the lives of our animals, and consider our input in the process of creating fair regulations.
Florida Animal Owners and Businesses
*IMPORTANT: Only sign this petition if you are a Florida resident.
The petition was first publicly promoted by Calusa Herpetological Society President Elaine Davis at the society’s meeting on June 2. “The pet industry is huge in Florida and the FWC rules are making it harder and harder for both pet owners and breeders,” said Davis. She added, “As regulations get tighter, many people could potentially be left unable to legally keep the pets that they love.”
Fish keeper and member of the Florida Tropical Fish Farmers Association (FTFFA) Joe Hiduke said, "Florida residents are signing the petition because they are concerned about the future of the aquarium hobby. Having an aquarium or terrarium in a home or classroom is among the best ways to develop a bond with the natural world. The aquarium hobby includes thousands of species of fish, and the members of our hobby are very concerned that most of these will no longer be available. There is no practical way to evaluate all of the species of fish in the trade (let alone mollusks, crustaceans, reptiles, birds, etc). Hobbyists are terrified that we'll end up with a list of allowed species that only includes the most basic types that are traded in high volume. This essentially eliminates the hobby from the state that has been at the forefront of raising ornamental fish for decades.”
Steven Nekhaila, Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Florida, weighed in on FWC’s actions. “The FWC should not be making the rules on who can own what type of animal, especially broad stroke laws which essentially “whitelist” specific pets while banning all others. There needs to be specific consideration to diverse and unique industries which exotic pets support, which also preserve and protect those species from annihilation.” Nekhaila continues, “The release of animals into the ecosystem is certainly a concern, but by blaming all pet owners the FWC hurts those acting responsibly without actually addressing the problem.”
The petition has been widely shared on social media. On Facebook, Kenu Turk commented, “FWC has been giving way too much power without any checks and balances in place.” Turk adds, “They say they don’t have an agenda but everything they do moves further and further towards the agenda of no more exotic animal ownership or possession in this state. They flat our lie through their teeth.”
Daniel Hurd commented, “FWC justifies its budget by creating these new senseless rules and laws that make it appear they “care” about the environment and Florida’s native fauna. I’m not for defunding the police, but I am for defunding the FWC or even disbanding and replacing them with an organization more similar to the DNR other states have.”
Harmony Merz commented, “If you love your pet reptiles, birds, fish etc., you should be signing this petition. FWC is overstepping and trying to take away our rights to have our pets. There are several responsible Florida animal businesses and all of their employees that will lose their livelihoods. I am one of those employees. This will have a great economic impact on Florida.”
Sarah Greek commented, “I love FWC but they are going about it in the wrong way. We are signing to get help from our great governor to help save our rights to own our animals.”
The Commissioners of the FWC are appointed by the Governor. DeSantis appointed the three of the current sitting Commissioners, including Chairman Rodney Barreto. Though the position of FWC Commissioner is unpaid, an appointment to FWC is an honor often bestowed upon influential political donors. The FWC Commissioners vote to approve rules which are crafted and presented by FWC staff. These rules may have far-reaching consequences for the citizens that they regulate.
FWC’s internal documents acknowledge that their regulations will hurt small business. The “Notice of Proposed Rule” for rule 68A-6.003 said, “The Agency has determined that this will have an adverse impact on small business or likely increase directly or indirectly regulatory costs in excess of $200,000 in the aggregate within one year after the implementation of the rule.” According to reptile keepers, the proposed rule does not give them the same due process and private property rights as other small businesses in Florida.
Florida’s reptile keepers believe that the actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) threaten their ability to continue to operate as small businesses. The President of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida (USARK Florida), Elizabeth Wisneski, wrote a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis asking him to protect the small businesses of reptile keepers. “Our businesses are threatened by regulations being imposed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Conservatively, the reptile industry in Florida generates at least $225 million annually, and we are an industry comprised entirely of small businesses,” says Wisneski. “We contribute significantly to the economy of the state and we rely on the incomes of our businesses to support our families and our employees.” She asks that Governor DeSantis, “stand up for our small businesses, as you have for other businesses in Florida.”
In her letter to Governor DeSantis, Wisneski explains, “At a recent public hearing on these proposed rules, FWC staff was asked if a single violation could be the basis for the revocation of a captive wildlife license. Staff replied, ‘Yes.’ The idea of someone’s entire business being shut down over one violation, which could be something as innocuous as a paperwork error, is unprecedented in our great State.” At the FWC Commission meeting on May 3, 2022 in Gainesville, FWC Major Grant Burton confirmed that “a warning is a violation.”
She adds, “In December 2021, the FWC proposed a new package of harsh regulations that will make it more difficult for business owners to transfer their personal property, in some cases, preclude their ability to conduct business, require them to divulge private medical information, require them to self-report facts that could lead to criminal violations, and impose severe, punitive penalties. All of these implications pose, inter alia, serious constitutional questions,” said Wisneski.
Letter to Governor Ron DeSantis from USARK FL President Elizabeth Wisneski
At the May FWC meeting, animal keepers joined a crowd of dissatisfied stakeholders who condemned FWC’s management of species and habitats. These citizens included advocates for the gopher tortoise, a species which theoretically receives protection in Florida, but continues to be “entombed” in collapsed burrows to die a slow death at the hands of developers, as well as agricultural and mining operations. Advocates for manatees, which have experienced unprecedented death rates in the past few years due to starvation and poisoning by herbicides, say that FWC’s herbicide spraying program has eliminated the manatees’ food sources as well as increased pollution flowing into waterways and estuaries. Anglers also condemn the herbicide program, saying that they observe fish kills after waters are sprayed by FWC contractors. Drone footage posted by YouTubers shows FWC contractors appearing to intentionally spray wildlife, including Endangered Snail kites and American alligators, with herbicide.
For more information and photos on this topic, or to schedule an interview, please call Daniel Parker at 863-441-5067 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.