The "Ding" Darling Visitor & Education Center isn't usually known for learning how to crack down on criminals.
That may soon change as islanders will hear about the underbelly of Florida wilderness and how state wardens track wildlife thieves during two lectures by Bob H. Lee, author of Backcountry Lawman: True Stories from a Florida Game Warden. The free lectures begin at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17, in the Visitor & Education Center.
According to Lise Bryant, who runs the Refuge Nature Store in the Visitor & Education Center and works for the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society, this is the tenth year of the lecture series.
Bob H. Lee's memoirs as a Florida game warden. PHOTO PROVIDED.
"It's always free and first come, first serve," she said. "It's limited to 100 seats, which is why we do two sessions."
Most people have never imagined the often dicey, sometimes comical and bizarre job of a Florida game warden. Backcountry Lawman tells what it's like to catch an armed poacher in the act. All while working alone, at night, without backup or a decent radio to call for help.
Lee spent over 30 years as a water patrol officer on Florida's St. Johns River and a land patrol lieutenant in Putnam, St. Johns, and Flagler counties. Before retiring in 2007, he taught man-tracking classes through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
His riveting stories describe the cat-and-mouse games often played between game wardens and poachers of ducks, turkeys, hogs, deer, gators, and other species. He reveals, for example, how "monkey fishing," the electrocution of catfish, carried the same outlaw mystique in the rivers of Florida as moonshining once did in the hills of Georgia and Tennessee.
Admission is free to the lecture, which is sponsored by The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company and "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), as part of its 12-week Friday Afternoon Lecture Series.
Bryant said she created the lecture series ten years ago after Hurricane Charley devastated the islands.
"Not all the hotels were open on the island after Charley, we started the series to draw people back to the refuge," she said. "It's been pretty successful."
Following the lectures, Lee will sign copies of his book, which are available for purchase in the Refuge Nature Center. Proceeds will benefit refuge conservation and education programs.
For more information on future lectures, call 472-1100 ext. 241 or visit dingdarlingsociety.org/lectures.