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by Chuck Echenique

I must admit, I was more than a bit skeptical and slightly disappointed when I heard the news that Governor Scott had made his choice to replace Rodney Barreto on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Chuck Roberts? Really?

With all the qualified people whose names were up for consideration, the governor chose a road contractor over people with biology backgrounds and long histories of hunter advocacy?

I just couldn’t believe it. By my estimation, there were at least three or four others who would have been better suited for the job.

Being one who can’t leave well enough alone, I decided to call Mr. Roberts and ask him for an interview. I wanted to get a better picture of who this man is and why he was chosen over all the others.

Besides, in all the years I’ve been reading Woods ‘n Water, I’ve never once seen a piece introducing a new commissioners to the sporting public. I figured now was as a good a time as any to break that mold.

I was able to speak with Mr. Roberts and he agreed to an interview via telephone. He was surprisingly accessible and eager to speak with me. We scheduled our conversation for the Monday before archery season opened in Zone C.

Monday came and no call. I was slightly annoyed.

Tuesday came and passed. I was beginning to get mad. Not that I think I’m so important I can’t be stood up, but when a man calls you at home and makes a promise, you expect him to keep it.

Finally, on Tuesday evening as I was thinking about sitting down and hammering my keyboard with all sort of nasty things to say, Mr. Roberts called.

He was apologetic and very sincere, immediately smoothing my ruffled feathers. We chatted briefly and he explained the reasons for his tardiness in calling me. Suffice to say, all was set right. We rescheduled for the morning and I interviewed him as intended.

During the course of my interview, I learned a lot about Chuck Roberts. He is not a complicated man (and that is a compliment). He spoke plainly and honestly, making me feel as though we had a long familiarity with one another.

He has a gift for communicating with people and putting them at ease. We discussed his life, his work, his love of hunting and fishing and his history as a Floridian. Chuck Roberts, 58, was born in Quincy, Fla. and went to school in Port St. Joe. He grew up hunting public land and running dogs in the Apalachicola Forest. He has fished and hunted in the Panhandle his entire life and has seen first-hand the many changes our state has gone through over the decades.

In 1996, he purchased a 1,000-acre tract of land. He told me it had always been his dream to own a contiguous plot of land that size, and when the opportunity arose, he jumped on it. That was when he stopped hunting public land.

Today, Mr. Roberts’ original 1,000 acres has grown to about 1,600 on which he hunts. He owns an additional 800 acres of other tract, all of which he manages himself.

He loves wing shooting, deer hunting, and fishing, and says he hunts and fishes as often as he can. Although his application made no mention of it, he’s more than qualified to understand the complexities of game management.

Mr. Roberts practices applied land and wildlife management on his own lands. He has knows what the demands of the land are and pays close attention to the needs of the wildlife.

Professionally, Chuck Roberts owns a road construction company with offices spread across the state. He has built roads for DOT and various cities, counties, government agencies and municipalities across Florida. He even built roads in the Ocala and Osceola National Forests in the late 1970s.

On the civic front, Mr. Roberts served on the Governing Board of the Northwest Florida Water Management District for 12 years, as well as serving a short stint on the Liberty County School Board. Between his civic accomplishments and his myriad dealings with government agencies in his professional life, Mr. Roberts clearly understands how government functions in Florida and what it takes to make things happen.

He confided in me that initially he was not considering applying for the position of FWC Commissioner. He had been approached by several persons to throw his name in for consideration (none of whom he named, nor did I presume to ask out of respect).

He said he struggled with the decision for some time, but ultimately succumbed to the requests. He told me that he finally gave in and applied because he was certain he would not be chosen for the job. Chuckling softly, he still seemed amazed that he was appointed – or even considered at all.

Chuck was extremely candid in admitting that he knew very little about the problems and difficulties facing South Florida. He told me that, other than driving across Alligator Alley, he has never been in Big Cypress or the Everglades.

He candidly admitted that he knows very little about anything south of Ocala. But he has a plan to remedy that and intends to visit each region of the state to familiarize himself with them all.

In the interim, Mr. Roberts has already begun spending at least one day a month immersing himself in the specific details and challenges of each of these locations with the help of FWC staff.

His ultimate goal is to open as much state land to as many user groups as possible (including hunters).

We spoke about his goals and the issues closest to his heart. Among his chief topics of concern are bears, grouper and snapper regulations and public land access.

Chuck told me he wants to see a bear management plan in place. As a youngster, he participated in and enjoyed bear hunting with his grandfather.

While he is realistic that bear hunting may or may not be feasible in some locations, he understands the complexities of the issue and can relate to all sides of the argument.

He wishes to address and improve the red snapper and grouper fisheries in the Gulf, making them more friendly and acceptable to both recreational and commercial fishermen.

He feels the current regulations are too restrictive and unrealistic and that a change needs to be made to ensure the continued success of the fisheries for future generations.

He also wants to make public land as open and accessible to all users as possible. By way of example, the Northwest Florida Water Management District has approximately 90% of its lands open to hunting.

He is hopeful that his appointment to the Commission will help make these goals a reality.

Officially, my opinion of Chuck Roberts has changed.

I’m sure that while we may disagree on some issues in the future, he will always have the needs of the wildlife and the desires of the sportsmen in mind as he navigates the many complex issues our state and the FWC will face in the future.

He is an impressive choice for FWC Commissioner, and I wish him great success in his new appointment.