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Hunters aid in the fight against nonnative snakes

As I See It

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Media contact: Rodney Barreto

It never ceases to amaze me.  We just wrapped up a big event in the Everglades, in which we trained hunters on how to capture and remove nonnative snakes, and we sent them out to test their skills. It was a cold, damp day. The experts said the pythons would be hiding due to the inclement weather.

The media that gathered were not optimistic. In fact, none of us were. We pretty much resigned ourselves to the prospect that the hunters might go home empty-handed. But sure enough, a team of freshly trained hunters spotted a 5-foot Burmese python in the brush along the L-67 levee. The hunter told us he was able to spot and stalk the snake after receiving our training. He had never caught a wild python before. It just goes to show these snakes are out there, and they are more common than we might think.

We just unveiled a new weapon in the fight against nonnative snakes in the Everglades. Hunters are the latest tool in our toolbox. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) created a special chance for hunters to capture and remove reptiles of concern from state-managed lands around the Everglades. From March 8 to April 17, those with a hunting license and a $26 management area permit may take reptiles of concern (Indian python, reticulated python, northern and southern African rock python, amethystine or scrub python, green anaconda and Nile monitor lizard) on Everglades and Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land and Rotenberger wildlife management areas (WMAs).

The specially created season, established by executive order, follows the close of small game season on the three WMAs, and continues during a period when the nonnative snakes are likely to be encountered. During cooler months, cold-blooded reptiles sun themselves on levees, canal banks and roadways to warm up. This makes them easier to spot, capture and remove.

We are once again engaging our stakeholders, in this case, the hunting community, to help us reduce the number of reptiles of concern in the Everglades.  Our hunters are on the front lines, and we hope, by tapping into their knowledge of the Everglades, we can make significant progress in this effort.

We provided the hunters with the knowledge they need to succeed in this endeavor. A large group of hunters received training on how to identify, stalk, capture and remove reptiles of concern. The FWC and experts from the reptile industry provided the training, which included lessons in biology and behavior.

I was recently introduced to a South Florida tanner who explained the value of harvested hides. He showed me python-skin belts, boots and pants. I was surprised to learn that python skins can sell for as much as $5 a foot.

We are serious about helping to stop the spread of reptiles of concern in the Everglades. Over the years, we've ramped up our efforts. We've offered pet amnesty days to folks who want to surrender their nonnative pets legally with no questions asked, and we've put tighter restrictions on ownership of reptiles of concern. We've engaged the reptile industry and have enlisted its experts to capture and remove nonnative snakes on state-managed lands. Now, we're asking hunters to get involved.

This is about conservation. We are working together to protect our fragile ecosystem from these exotic predators. A balanced ecosystem benefits our native wildlife, thus benefitting us all.

Just a reminder, reptiles of concern may be taken by all legal methods (including shotguns, rimfire rifles and pistols) used in the taking of game animals; however, the use of centerfire rifles is prohibited.  Reptiles of concern may not be taken out of the wildlife management areas alive and must be reported to the FWC within 36 hours by calling, toll-free, 866-392-4286, or by visiting MyFWC.com/ROC.



FWC Facts:
The Florida panther, Florida's official state animal, is one of the most endangered animals on earth, with an estimated 100-160 adults and subadults remaining in southern Florida.

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