Game warden adventures reveal an important side of Florida’s nature

Bad Guys, Bullets, and Boat Chases: True Stories of Florida Game Wardens, by Bob H. Lee. University Press of Florida. 272 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

Though its main purpose lies elsewhere, this vivid treatment of the life of game wardens underscores the fact that Florida has been impressively dedicated to the stewardship of natural resources. Across the state, smaller and larger preserves – some quite enormous – protect the habitat of wildlife. Mr. Lee’s book enables us to visit stunning (and sometimes scraggly) locations. 

The author’s focus is on the people who work for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), a combination of two previous agencies. FWC has over eight hundred conservation law enforcement officers and another thirteen hundred additional employees. The conservation officers and investigators (“game wardens”) “have full police powers and statewide jurisdiction.” From the tales Mr. Lee has collected, readers will learn that this is no job for the timid.

There are bad guys out there illegally killing or capturing wildlife for profit. They are often skilled, sometimes organized into gangs, and always ready take enormous risks to satisfy their greed or their addiction to the thrill of violence.

The seventeen chapters offer a variety of stories illustrating the skills and courage of these wardens. Although sometimes the main business is to wait in hiding while anticipating the actions of lawbreakers, most often the stories are brimming with confrontations and high-stakes action.

Bob H. Lee

Among the earlier narratives is the fascinating story of Eastern Airlines flight #401 as it streaked downwards into the Florida Everglades marshlands. Bob Lee tracks the ensuing discovery of the wrecked plane by an airboat-driving young warden, along with his role in the compromised rescue operation. His was Gray Leonhard’s first experience of such a disaster. His long game warden career included hundreds of search-and-rescue operations in which the FWC assisted other law enforcement and rescue agencies.

There are more airboat chases in the book than airboat rescue missions. Whatever the vehicle, game wardens need to foil criminal actions such as deer and turkey poaching, gill-netting operations, and other illegal activities. Confrontations with alligators, snakes, and other dangerous species are also part of a game warden’s work. Alligator and snake skins are profitable commodities, and there are laws governing the harvesting of these money-makers that wardens must enforce. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 10, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 11 Naples and  Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bob Lee

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