I hoped it would be a snowy day on Duval Street before the Legislature required my advice on business, but someone needs to speak out about a glaring wrong before the big chill descends. Consider: Florida makes more money from fishing, hunting and boating than any state in the nation, yet we pay our biologists and law enforcement pros like a bankrupt, landlocked and butt-ugly tourist pariah. Florida ranks 40th or worse in most salaried categories.
That’s bad business.
Our Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) professionals have never had an equitable pay adjustment.
That’s unwise. A business maxim: If employees aren’t paid what they’re worth, motivation is the first casualty, and personal work product will descend to the level of income. Or they will leave.
Rick Scott, this is not Kentucky. Ladies and gentlemen of the Legislature, this is Florida, land of recreational plenty. We own more IGFA World Records than most countries, and are home to more birds, fish, game and roadless wilderness than any state south of Canada. It’s time to fortify the platinum goose you’ve inherited by investing in the employees who are mandated to protect it.
The disparity between income and re-investment is mind-boggling. No .. . it’s an embarrassment. Recreational fishing alone brings $5 billion annually into our state according to a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife national survey. That’s right, five billion dollars! New York, Maryland and California tie for a distant second and third, earning about half that. Add boating, hunting, and scuba revenue and we blow all other states away in comparison.
Yet, Maryland, California and others pay their biologists and state law enforcement officers about double what we pay ours. Worse, 90 percent of U.S. states competing for our recreational dollars are luring, and keeping, the best talent in these fields for a simple reason: Most of them pay competitive wages.
Florida does not.
How oblivious is Tallahassee to the situation? Deaf, dumb and indifferent judging from data compiled from the same national survey, trade magazines and Internet sources. Salaries for fish-and-game law enforcement officers are an example. The seven top paying states are: Maryland, California, Nevada, Washington, Wyoming, Indiana and Idaho.
Now skip to the bottom seven: Oklahoma, New Mexico, Florida, South Dakota, Georgia and Utah.
A simple comparison: In Maryland, the median salary for an experienced fish-and-game officer is $67,400. Florida? $39,400. If you are not yet embarrassed, I have three names for you: Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas. That’s right, this nation’s poorest states exhibit a business savvy our own Legislature lacks. Even they take better care of their wildlife professionals.
Let’s get to specifics. According to a study published in the April 2013 edition of Fisheries Magazine, Florida ranks 46th in the U.S. in what we pay our second-level biologists ($36,500.) We’re talking about scientists with PhDs who have already proven themselves in the workplace and in their fields!
Okay, now imagine you have recently graduated from a top university, valedictorian of your class as a biology major. It’s time to find an entry (level one) position, so you study the marketplace for starting salaries. Will you apply to Florida’s FWC ($32,600,) or purchase mittens and go to work for Virginia ($53,500) or Wisconsin ($50,745) or Wyoming ($50,300)?