Topher Forhecz

Topher is a reporter at WGCU News. 

He formerly freelanced for WNYC radio in New York City. He holds a master's degree from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

The Argentine black and white tegu is one of the newest, biggest threats to Florida’s natural wildlife. The large, invasive lizard was first noticed in the wild roughly 10 years ago. Now, it has two main breeding populations and biologists are trying to contain them. They want to stop tegus from becoming established throughout the state.

A two-part discussion on the state of medical marijuana in Florida. First, we explore new policies and proposals that would expand the uses of medical marijuana. A 2016 ballot initiative is trying again to collect signatures. At the same time, state lawmakers are filing bills they want to be heard in the upcoming legislative session.

A new exhibit at the Blanchard House Museum of African American History and Culture of Charlotte County explores what changes took place in the years following the Civil War. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Reconstruction.

The exhibit also focuses on Florida during this time.

The Reconstruction Era was from 1865 to 1877. Martha Bireda is the Executive Director of the Blanchard House Museum.

She said the recently freed blacks faced several challenges during this time.

The State University System of Florida’s Board of Governors is asking state lawmakers to give them funding for more law enforcement and mental health counseling positions.

Proponents said the roughly $20 million would make state campuses safer.

Federal, state and local researchers met with landowners in Collier County Wednesday to talk about the threat of invasive species in Southwest Florida.

They covered what’s taking over and how locals can help.

Florida doctors can soon order medical marijuana for their patients. The law goes into effect at the start of next year.

But so far, only a few dozen doctors have signed up.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commissioner is seeking a permit that would give her and other landowners legal coverage if they were to kill or harass endangered animals while developing thousands of acres in eastern Collier County.

The land includes habitat for the Florida panther. The commission helps oversee the species’ rebound.

This comes as the agency rethinks its role in the panther’s recovery plan. Some environmental organizations worry about the state’s timing.

Lee County’s conservation rangers are on the lookout for illegal berry pickers on county preserves. It’s the time of year when pickers will sneak into county lands to pluck saw-palmetto berries. There’s a demand especially for these berries from local buyers. They’re often used in medicinal supplements to supposedly treat prostate issues.

Tropical Storm Erika has local emergency operation centers getting ready.

Rob Farmer stood in front of a multi-paneled screen at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center in Fort Myers. One of the screens showed the outline and projected path of Tropical Storm Erika.

Farmer is the county’s Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management. The storm has the center in what Farmer called a “monitoring phase.”

CLARIFICATION: The lawsuits were settled between the state and Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews.

Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials recently settled multiple lawsuits that claimed they violated the state’s public records law.

But, the AP reports at least one member of the state Senate was not pleased with the way in which the state used some of the funds for the settlement.

The governor discussed the settlement at a press stop in Naples on Friday.

Hendry County concluded an investigation Wednesday into two local primate breeding facilities. The county was concerned the companies were performing practices outside of their agricultural permits.

The county found no violations.

When Tampa was announced as the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention, law enforcement expected thousands of protestors to arrive with it.

The Tampa Bay Times recently reported part of law enforcement’s preparation included undercover officers infiltrating protest groups and working their way up into leadership roles.

Staff writer Richard Danielson wrote that story for the Times.  Danielson spoke with WGCU about how he found out about the story and what he learned about the operation.  

A new institute in Naples wants to tackle identity theft in the state.  

The Identity Fraud Institute at Hodges University will be used for research and educational purposes. It also wants to partner with organizations to get the word out about potential threats.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state to immediately investigate all Florida Planned Parenthood offices that perform abortions on Wednesday.

The order comes after the release of secretly recorded videos. They show Planned Parenthood officials talking about tissue from aborted fetuses used for research.

Note: Audio to come.

Lee Memorial Health System is preparing to build a hospital without beds. The company bought land in Estero about a decade ago. It was originally intended to be an 80-bed facility. But, the state denied its plans. Now, the plans have changed. 

State wildlife officials are rethinking their policy when it comes to conserving the endangered Florida panther.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s position statement says much of the federal plan to recover the panther population is “aspirational rather than practical.”

The City of Bonita Springs banned the controversial oil and gas extraction method called hydraulic fracturing or fracking within its city limits Wednesday. The process involves injecting fluid into rock formations. Bonita Springs is now the second city in Florida to ban fracking.

The decision was a win for environmental activists. But, oil and gas representatives on both state and local levels expressed their concerns about the ordinance.

Hendry County Commissioners signed off on the first step Tuesday of a new process for approving power plants. Florida Power and Light submitted the proposal. The company has been looking at a piece of land in the county as the site of a potential power plant for years.

The Florida Department of Health recently released the list of nurseries that applied to grow medical-marijuana.

This comes more than a year after the state legalized this non-euphoric marijuana strain. It will be processed into an oil that would treat conditions like epilepsy and cancer.

Twenty-four nurseries made the list, but only five will be picked.

An annual report by an government watchdog group said the state’s environmental regulatory agency is doing very little when it comes to regulating.

The group said there’s a dramatic shift in how the Florida Department of Environmental Protection operates under Gov. Rick Scott.

Note: Audio to come.


WGCU asked for comment about how enforceable the present moratorium on saw palmetto berry picking might be in light of the black market that exists around the berry. A spokesperson with the Florida Department of Agriculture wrote in an email "The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is partnering with our department to help enforce the moratorium on palmetto berry harvests on state forest land." 


The Florida Department of Agriculture recently put a moratorium on picking saw palmetto berries in state forests. The berries are a major part of the state’s black bear diet. They’re also collected and sold for medicines.

Environmental groups said the lack of available berries for bears is one of the likely causes behind the recent incidents between humans and bears.

Now that berry pickers are being put on hold, they want the state to also hold off on its recently approved bear hunt.

A local newspaper recently published a story accusing state employees of allegedly stealing money meant for charity. They made their cash by selling the brass that’s ejected out of a firearm after its shot. They collected brass from at least one range operated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Those funds were supposed to go to a state youth hunting program.

Note: Audio to come.

Florida Power and Light is asking to amend Hendry County's comprehensive plan. It would create a new process for approving power plants. That proposal was put before a county advisory committee Wednesday.

FPL has been eyeballing a piece of land in Hendry County as the site of a possible power plant for years. It borders the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. Last year, the tribe won a victory in court that stopped the possibility FPL could build that plant.

Craft breweries across the state are celebrating today as a new law takes effect allowing them to sell their suds in 64-ounce refillable containers known as growlers. The state failed last year to legalize what is considered the industry standard size.

One Fort Myers brewery started selling the growlers as the clock struck midnight.


A representative from the National Institutes of Health wrote in an email HHS is currently investigating Primate Products.  

None of the Congress members who signed the letter accepted requests for an interview.  


Primate Products President Thomas Rowell said today a subdivision of Health and Human Services is already looking into the company.