1. Environment

New state wildlife agency official has no wildlife background, but he did help get Gov. Ron DeSantis elected

The governor's deputy campaign manager now has a $91,000-a-year job with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — one apparently created for him.
Published Jan. 25, 2019

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a new deputy chief of staff with an unusual background. He has never worked for a wildlife agency before, or for any other state agency.

He's Jordan Wiggins, 33. His two most recent jobs involved helping get Gov. Ron DeSantis elected and then helping run his inauguration.

Wiggins has been a political operative for a decade. Prior to serving as DeSantis' deputy campaign manager and then the director of operations for the inaugural celebration, he worked for Marco Rubio's doomed presidential campaign, as well as serving as national field director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

He has a bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University in international relations,.

He started his $91,000 job on Tuesday, according to wildlife agency spokeswoman Susan Neel.

"We are pleased that Jordan joined our FWC team," Neel said in a statement emailed to the Times. "We know his professional background will enhance our ability to fulfill our conservation mission."

According to Neel, "Jordan is in an overlap position with David Rathke who is currently serving as our Chief Operations Officer." Rathke previously worked as chief of staff at the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Neel's new boss, wildlife commission chief of staff Jennifer Fitzwater, has a master's degree in wildlife science from Auburn University, spent two and a half years as chief of staff at the state Department of Environmental Protection and has been employed by the wildlife commission since 2013.

In an email Fitzwater sent to the staff, she urged them to welcome her new deputy. She wrote that Wiggins "has excellent operational as well as strategic planning skills." She promised he "will provide valuable insight into a number of our initiatives."

"Perhaps just as importantly," she added, "Jordan is an avid bowhunter and can be found in the woods in his free time."

Repeated attempts to contact Wiggins were unsuccessful Friday.

Wiggins' lack of experience and education in dealing with wildlife management seems to contrast with what DeSantis recently said regarding who he is picking to fill important Florida government jobs.

PRIOR COVERAGE: DeSantis' pick for Florida Supreme Court has never been a judge before.

"I don't want to just be putting people in from some good ol' boys network," DeSantis told a congregation at the First Baptist Church Piney Grove in Lauderdale Lakes on Martin Luther King Day.

In a Jan. 10 speech about saving the Everglades and other environmental issues, DeSantis emphasized his interest in ensuring the use of sound science at the state's environmental agencies. Frank Jackalone of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club said putting someone like Wiggins into such a position at the state's wildlife agency runs counter to that promise.

PRIOR COVERAGE: DeSantis offers sweeping environmental program.

"The appointment of somebody who doesn't have any wildlife experience would make one wonder whether DeSantis was being genuine," Jackalone said.

Other environmental activists were more circumspect. Julie Wraithmell of Audubon Florida said she would "look forward to meeting him."

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Contact Craig Pittman at . Follow @craigtimes.


  1. Debbie and her husband Michael, of Parkersburg, West Virginia, fish from the Dunedin Causeway Thursday. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission extended the period of catch and release for several species of fish along the west coast of Florida.
  2. A slurry of dead fish, the result of Red Tide, moved out of Clearwater Harbor on the north side of Sand Key Park during a 16-month-long algae bloom. So many fish were killed that the state is limiting anglers to catch-and-release when it comes to snook, redfish and sea trout.  [Times photo (2018) by Douglas R. Clifford]
  3. A pair of wood storks, left, and a large group of white ibis rest and feed in a wetland area off Loop Road in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Florida is home to more wetlands than any other state except Alaska. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2008)]
  4. Pasco County commissioners introduced an ordinance Tuesday governing upkeep of empty property after residents complained about the condition of the Links Golf Club in Hudson, which closed in June 2019.
  5. Rep. Blaise Ingoglia on the floor of the Florida House in 2017. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  6. In this radar image from the National Weather Service's Key West facility, a massive flock of migratory birds is seen moving north early Monday. The green/yellow objects are biological objects flying north over the Keys. The darker blue objects indicate rain.
  7. These marine mammals were named "right whales" because they were considered by whalers to be "the right ones to hunt."
  8. Island Estates, a neighborhood in Clearwater Bay. There are three City Council races on this year's ballot as the city prepares for the realities of climate change.
  9. Florida Department of Environmental Protection staff conduct regular seagrass monitoring to assess the health and diversity of seagrass meadows within the St. Martins Marsh and Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserves north of Tampa Bay. A state legislator wants to extend the aquatic preserve to all of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties.

Charlie Shoemaker for The Pew Charitable Trusts
  10. One of two dolphins found dead in Florida recently of gunshot or stab wounds.
  11. Florida stopped providing free juice at welcome centers last year. [Times (2015)]
  12. USF scientist Stephen Hesterberg holds two oyster shells from Crystal River -- one small and modern, the other large and prehistoric. Hesterberg was part of a team of scientists who have documented how Florida oysters have shrunk since prehistoric times. Climate change may be a factor. [Courtesy of the University of South Florida]