The Friends of the Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys NWRs has been concerned about the challenges our Refuge has been facing for some time now because our lack of law enforcement staff.
For the second half of 2018, after our previous officer took a new position and left our Refuges, no full-time law enforcement officer was assigned to the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys Refuges.
Since the first of 2019, we also have lost our part-time law enforcement officer when the Fish and Wildlife Service ended the long-time practice of having dual-function officers who had law enforcement and other management assignments. Deputy Manager Larry Woodward had been a dual-enforcement officer.
Friends, as an organization and individual members of Friends as concerned citizens, have been contacting our legislators and Fish and Wildlife Service managers to voice our concerns and request immediate changes to the situation. At least partially in response to those calls for attention by Refuge visitors and users, the Refuge finally was authorized to begin the process of hiring a full-time law enforcement officer. With luck, one will be in place by the end of the year.
However, Refuge Manager Andrew Gude and the other Refuge staff members have continued to receive reports of illicit activity on the Refuges and have continued to be hampered in following up in a timely way.
Recently at least one other Refuge visitor complained loudly to his Congressional representatives about feeling insecure on the Refuge after observing illegal activity while fishing in an area particularly used by visitors with a "special use permit" allowing additional access for people with disabilities.
Friends is very happy to report that the Refuge has temporarily been assigned two law enforcement officers. They are here and we are delighted. Hurray, and thank you to Refuge visitors with loud voices.