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FWC will revisit fox and coyote chase issue in June

As I See It

Friday, April 16, 2010

In a couple of months, the seven Commissioners of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will revisit whether to allow hunters to run foxes and coyotes in enclosures in the state, and if we do, what rules we might  draft to ensure the animals are run by "fair chase" standards.

In case you are not familiar with the practice, let me explain.  Many years ago, it was possible for fox hunters to cast their dogs in large areas of North and Central Florida and run foxes on vast, forested tracts.  In the 1970s and '80s North and Central Florida's human population grew, and it continues to grow.  By the mid-to-late '80s fox chases on open land proved untenable for residents and fox hunters alike due to trespass and human-disturbance issues.

As an alternative to fox chases on open land, the then-Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission created a permit system for fox running inside high-fence enclosures beginning in 1988.  Coyotes were prevalent in Florida, and hunters could chase them too.

The permit that pen owners operate under spells out such things as the height and construction of the fence; requirement for escape areas for foxes and coyotes; food and water stations for the animals; required veterinary care or euthanasia for injured foxes and coyotes; and the maximum number of dogs that hunters could use in the chase.

The permit also stipulated that when pen owners wanted to acquire foxes, they had to obtain the animals from sources outside Florida, and the state where they got them had to be certified disease-free (of rabies) for a year.  On the other hand, coyotes had to come from within Florida.

Over the years, the number of permitted enclosures has fluctuated from just a handful to as many as 50.  The smallest of the areas was about 100 acres, the largest, about 800.

Concerned about reports of coyotes and foxes being obtained illegally and other violations concerning the enclosures, the FWC initiated an investigation in early 2009.  Officers wrapped up the detail in November 2009 with the arrests of 12 people.

In September 2009, the FWC launched a moratorium on issuing or re-issuing permits to operate these facilities.  That moratorium remains in place now.

At the February 17-18 Commission meeting in Apalachicola, we heard from 48 speakers, the opinions were almost equally divided. One side asked the agency to lift the moratorium and continue allowing the running of foxes and coyotes in these enclosures.  On the other side, the speakers called the practice "cruel" and "barbaric" and asked that FWC stop the practice.

Our action to continue the moratorium until our June 23-24 meeting in Lake Mary was done to give FWC staff time to sit down with stakeholders try to reach consensus on possible measures to make sure fox and coyotes are treated humanely and not brutally killed.

Prior to the February meeting and since then, we have gotten lots of calls, letters and e-mails on the subject.  We value that input.  Our decision in Lake Mary certainly won't please everyone, but we pledge to consider all input.

FWC Facts:
TrophyCatch provides anglers with prize rewards as incentives to weigh and measure their fish and submit photographs that document size.

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