---- — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Hundreds of letters and emails to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge were clear: Don’t kill the alligators.
Opponents of a proposed public alligator hunt that would begin next year outnumbered supporters 407 to 84, with messages reaching the western Palm Beach County refuge from around the world. A Web petition against the proposal generated 2,975 signatures.
“It is not necessary to turn a well known and popular wildlife REFUGE into a deathtrap at the request of a single user group,” wrote Brian Call, a Fort Lauderdale nature photographer. A South African woman urged the refuge to reject “this despicable and wicked so-called sport.” But Andrew F. Kay Jr., of Indian River County, asked the refuge to go ahead with the hunt and ignore the protests of “a small minority of well intentioned and ill-informed urbanites.”
A Loxahatchee official said the refuge has made an initial decision but won’t reveal it, pending approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional headquarters in Atlanta.
The refuge, which encompasses 221 square miles of Everglades marshes, cypress swamp and tree islands, has proposed issuing 11 permits next year that would allow each hunter to kill two alligators. Among the methods of catching them are snares, gigs, harpoons, spearguns and crossbows. A bang stick — a pole that discharges a bullet or shotgun shell upon making direct contact with the prey — would be used to kill the alligator.
Although the initial quota of 22 alligators would be modest, the refuge’s management said the number would rise if all goes well, and both sides are treating the decision as a significant precedent.
“The word ‘Refuge’ should mean just that,” wrote Holly Draluck of Boca Raton. “It should be a safe haven for wildlife. These animals get habituated to people and a hunt is nothing short of a slaughter. ... You may as well change the name to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National HUNT CLUB.”
Among the proposal’s supporters are the Florida Wildlife Federation, South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which wrote that 25 years of monitoring had shown that “alligator populations are highly resilient to harvest pressure.”
Several hunters wrote that hunting was a wholesome, traditional family activity that would have no impact on a thriving alligator population that has lost its fear of people.
“It will promote a Florida tradition and control the population,” wrote Blaine Dickenson, of Boca Raton. “The folks protesting don’t seem to understand the issue with nuisance gators. I’m a Florida native and have been going to the Refuge for years. I went on my first duck hunt there. The gators have been aggressive and unafraid of humans there for a long time.”