Alligator hunting dispute: Clash over proposed Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge gator hunt

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Hunters and environmentalists clashed Thursday over a proposal to allow alligator hunting at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, a vast swath of the Everglades that juts into western Palm Beach County.

At a public meeting in West Palm Beach, opponents held signs that read, "This is their land! No alligator hunts!" "No hunting in a refuge" and "Alligator hunters not welcome!" Hunters didn't bring signs but made their presence known by showing up in camouflage or orange vests.

About 100 people showed up to give opinions on a proposal by the refuge to issue 11 permits in 2013 for hunters to kill two of the giant reptiles each, for a total of 22 dead, with an increase planned if all goes well. Among the methods are snares, gigs, harpoons, spearguns, crossbows and bangsticks.

From a show of hands, supporters of the alligator hunt appeared to outnumber opponents by about 2 to 1. Hunters said "harvesting" alligators was a sustainable and traditional outdoors activity necessary to keep in check a population of top predators.

"As someone who hunts and fishes on the refuge, I can tell you the alligators are thick and unfortunately aggressive," said Newton Cook, executive director of the United Waterfowlers of Florida. "While I'm fishing the alligators will take the fish off the hook."

Opponents said that a hunt would be cruel, disturbing to the majority of visitors and contrary to the spirit of a refuge for wildlife.

"Why would you want to inflict guns, bullets and violence on this peaceful place?" asked Don Anthony, communications director for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. "It's offensive to even consider allowing the killing of animals in a so-called refuge."

He dismissed the purported need to manage alligator populations as "a ruse," saying alligators had managed their numbers by themselves for millions of years.

Staci-lee Sherwood, another opponent, said she hunting would make the refuge an unpleasant and disturbing place for the majority of visitors, imagining a parent with a child encountering a hunter "beating a bellowing alligator fighting for its life or being dragged out of the swamp by hooks."

Byron Maharrey, past president of the Everglades Coordinating Council, which represents hunters, said alligators are killed in a quick, humane manner, contrary to some of the earlier comments. Like other supporters of the proposal, he said hunting was necessary to control a top predator that has no natural enemies.

"We think this is needed to keep the species in check," he said. "There have been a number of people hurt or killed by alligators in the state."

Sylvia Pelizza, manager of the refuge, said an analysis of the alligator population found it to be strong and abundant.

"It was determined that we have a harvestable population," she said.

A decision is expected in November.

Comments may be submitted through Oct. 31 to Rolf_Olson@fws.gov or by mail to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, 10216 Lee Rd., Boynton Beach, Fla. 33473-4797.


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