Arthur R. Marshall Alligator Hunt 2013

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A 12-foot alligator, nicknamed George by the community, floats motionlessly in the cool and tranquil marsh water of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

Little does George know, if he paddles his scaly body just south, he could wind up in the heart of the first alligator hunt at the Boynton Beach refuge.
Though the plan is still waiting final approval from the wildlife director’s office, controversy on the alligator hunt still thrives in the environmental and outdoorsman community.
“The first thing you have to know is that man is a part of nature,” said Newton Cook,executive director of United Waterfowlers of Florida and hunting activist. “If you take man out of the equation, you wouldn’t even have preserves.”
Hunting is a sport that has been passed on for generations, but some environmentalists still believe that alligator hunting is inappropriate for a refuge.
“You wouldn’t camp on a golf course because that land is made for golf,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association. “So why would you hunt in a refuge?”
Schwartz explained that a 2011 study determined that the alligator population was on the decline in the refuge. He says that a sample of alligators in the everglades went from 228 in 2011 to 134 in 2012 and believes the proposed hunt will not help population.
Cook disagrees with Schwartz because the refuge and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has set strict limitations on the amount of gators each permitted hunter can capture and the way they will be hunted.
The hunt will be conducted in the lower thirds of the wetlands. The refuge encompasses 144,000 total wetlands, cypress swamp and tree islands, but only 30,000 acres, approximately 21 percent of the refuge, will be open to hunters. This leaves 79 percent to remain a wildlife sanctuary.
11 permits, with two gators per permit, will be awarded to hunters through a lottery from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who will also regulate the hunt.
The rules of the hunt get even more specific.
According to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge press release,each hunter may only harvest two gators over 18 inches on specific weekends from August 15 to November 1. Hunters may pursue the gators one hour before sunset on Friday night through one hour after sunrise Saturday morning, and one hour before sunset on Saturday night through one hour after sunrise Sunday morning.
The refuge requires that each alligator must not be captured using baited hooks, baited wooden pegs, or firearms. Alligators may be taken using hand held snares, harpoons, gigs, snatch hooks, artificial lures, manually operated spears, spear guns, and crossbows. Only water-cooled outboard motorboats, canoes and kayaks may be used to hunt.
Kapsch explains that the hunt was strategically planned so visitors will not witness any gore.
The idea of the alligator hunt started during the Comprehensive Conservation Plan process in 1998. There was an abundance of public interest to have the refuge open to recreational alligator hunting. Since the refuge already held waterfowl hunting, the refuge decided to hold the Sport Hunting Plan Public Meeting to discuss the proposed gator hunt.
Sylvia Pelizza, the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge manager, took each comment into careful consideration, but was specifically looking for comments with substantial, specific facts.
“This is not a popularity vote,” Pelizza said. “It’s to the science, to our development plan.”
The plan received 3,519 comments from 70 different countries.
Because hunting is one of the six recreational objectives a refuge is mandated to fulfill by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the high amount of public interest, the alligator hunt plan was set into motion.
Though the amount of actual gators at the refuge is unknown, a scientific computer model determined that there are enough alligators to spare for hunting. The model calculated that 44 was the magic number of alligators that could be hunted, but the refuge decided to lower the number.
“We weren’t comfortable starting that high,” Marcie Kapsch, a wildlife biologist at the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge, said. “We wanted to open this responsibly and take it really slow. So we decided that 22 gators was enough.”
Though the harvesting procedures and rules are highly enforced, a percentage of the community still believes the refuge should be left alone.
“It’s not like there is a shortage of places to hunt in Florida,” said Schwartz. 
With approximately 5 alligators per .6 miles in the refuge canals, Cook believes 22 alligators will not change anything.
Despite the controversy, a final decision will be announced by the end of February.
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