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FWC press release does not make agency look good

| Staff Reporters
In this business, you see a lot of press releases come into your email inbox. A lot of them are very useful, about our communities and the people and events in them that we are happy to share.

Last week, we received a press release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on a long-term investigation they conducted that led to the arrest of Steinhatchee, Florida, man on multiple poaching charges.

While reading to see if there was any local connection to the arrest that would warrant us running it, we didn’t find one, but we did become more and more disappointed with the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement’s investigation the more we read.

First thing, let’s be clear that it is a good thing that FWC got this alleged poacher off the streets and away from Florida’s wildlife. For that they should be commended.

However, there are things about the way the FWC law enforcement went about this investigation, at least the way they presented it in their own press release, that are pretty upsetting.

So here are the basics: On Feb. 28, FWC investigators arrested Sidney Brent Hurst, 37, of Steinhatchee, on charges of taking over the season bag limit for turkeys, taking over the season bag limit for deer, scheming to defraud, armed trespass, unlawful use of a two-way communication device and cheating. The charges range from second degree misdemeanors to third degree felonies.

The investigation began in spring 2020 in response to tips from the public, which led investigators to social media posts Hurst allegedly made.

During that first year of the investigation, FWC officers found evidence that Hurst and his young son had both killed more wild turkeys than the two per person bag limit allowed. In fact, FWC put in the press release they had evidence that Hurst by himself had killed 15 to 20 wild turkeys during the spring 2020 season.

To us, that seems like enough to arrest a fella on.

FWC decided they needed more evidence, so they continued the investigation into 2021 and widened it beyond just wild turkeys.

In 2021, they compiled evidence that Hurst continued to poach wild turkeys, both hunting beyond the legal bag limits in season and continuing to hunt outside of the legal hunting season, but that he also likely killed 20 buck deer, well above five per person bag limit.

Despite that extra investigation, no arrest was made in 2021 and FWC allowed the investigation to continue into 2022, when they believe Hurst killed at least another 15 wild turkeys.

So, if our math is correct, FWC, the state agency mandated to protect Florida’s wildlife, allowed at least 35 or more wild turkeys and 20 deer to be killed in 2021 and 2022 when they already had evidence that this person was poaching. They should be ashamed for allowing that to happen.

This is how FWC Deputy Director of North Operations Lt. Col. Gregg Eason explained FWC’s reaction to Hurst’s action over a more than two-year period:

“Over the course of the investigation, we were shocked by the egregious nature of both Hurst’s illegal exploits and his social media posts. He bragged about the number of wild turkeys he poached, often trespassing to do so, and his ability to elude law enforcement.”

Here’s our quote:
“Over the course of reading FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement press release, we were shocked by their egregious investigation and their willingness to knowingly let this suspected animal remain free and illegally hunt Florida’s wildlife for more than a year after they had evidence of his illegal poaching habits. If we were a wild turkey or deer at that point, we’d be asking FWC ‘What the heck, guys?’”

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