Friday, August 27, 2010

It's alligator hunting season

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Each hunting permit allows two alligators to be taken.

Alligator season in Florida is under way and runs until Nov. 1. There are four week-long harvest periods during the season. Last year 6,296 alligator hunting permits were issued and 7,729 alligators were taken.

Alligator hunting was a favorite Florida pastime in the 1880s and early 1900s. Winter visitors along the St. Johns River and elsewhere used to shoot alligators for sport from the decks of steamboats. Tales of hunting alligators in the Everglades abounded.

But by 1943 there were concerns about the demise of the alligator and hunting began to be regulated, but not terribly effectively. Illegal hunting continued into the 1960s, with sales of hides and meat bringing premium prices even as the populations were being decimated.

In 1967, the alligator was added to the endangered species list. New federal regulations with teeth gave law enforcement the tools they needed and the poaching era ended.

Alligator conservation had an astounding effect. The alligator rebounded rapidly in the 1970s, so much so that complaints of nuisance alligators increased significantly as residential development spread and alligator populations grew. There followed a period in which hunting nuisance alligators became a living for some Floridians.

For the last 20 years, annual hunting seasons for wild alligators have been regulated by the state as a way to control the alligator population without destroying it.

Phil Attinger, a correspondent for the Winter Haven News Chief accompanied alligator trapper Jim Webb on an alligator hunt recently. Webb, a lifelong hunter, decries the lack of respect some people have for wildlife, particularly alligators.

"Gators are a problem because people feed them," he said. "I hate to see it."

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