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Nancy Smith

Make the Successful Everglades Python Hunt Permanent

June 5, 2017 - 6:00am

Those who scoffed in March at the South Florida Water Management District's Python Elimination Program can eat their words now.

The program ended June 1 as an unqualified success -- 154 dead snakes, weighing a total of 4,000 pounds, all taken from Water Management District lands in Miami-Dade County. Many females killed were carrying eggs.

Drop in the bucket, you say? Considering wildlife officials estimate there may be as many as 150,000 Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades, slithering eating machines competing for the ecosystem's wildlife -- maybe you're right. Maybe 154 kills don't solve the problem.

But the Water Management District always said, we have to start somewhere, and four years ago when a python hunt first was proposed, no environmental group was prepared to take it on. In fact, nobody had a suggestion for any kind of eradication program. Only the District stepped up. 

The hunt went from a joke in the first year with 68 snakes caught by 1,500 mostly yahoos, to a big improvement -- 106 snakes bagged by 1,000 hunters, to now a genuine winner, an efficient exercise employing a winning formula.

Never doubt the importance of this program: Pythons are devouring virtually everything that moves in the Everglades, including native Florida alligators. This is no exaggeration. Marsh rabbits, raccoons, opossums, bobcats, deer, great blue herons, wood storks all have disappeared -- really and truly disappeared, leaving behind an eerie and desolate ecosystem.

Over a decade ending in 2009, federal and state agencies spent $100 million on the recovery of wood storks alone, a staple of the pythons' diet.

The Everglades isn't an environment you can bomb with a commercial pest killer. There is no product on the market, no other method known to man than to get into the swamp -- man against snake -- find each individual creature and kill it. 

Dusty "Wildman" Crum with his 16-foot-10 python
Dusty "Wildman" Crum with his 16-foot-10 python

And even then, you don't want to overwhelm the environment with a human presence. This time SFWMD certainly didn't. They chose 25 professional python hunters from more than 1,000 who applied.

Hunters are getting better at finding the easily camouflaged snakes. My bet is, with every year, they will get better still. 

And the program didn't break the bank. Water management officials say they only paid out about half of the $175,000 set aside for the program. Nobody got rich. It was successful because it was never really about money. 

The independent contractors slogging through the 'glades were paid $8.10 per hour up to eight hours a day -- and to a man (or woman), each called referred to it as a kind of therapy. 

Depending on the size of the snake each brought out, there was an additional on-the-spot cash payment of $50 for pythons measuring up to 4 feet and an extra $25 for each foot measured above 4 feet. The big prize was for eliminating a python nest with eggs: An additional $100 was given for that.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also held python-hunting contests. The spirit of the occasions has been admirable, but FWC hunters met with far less success. And, for a time, the University of Florida brought in expert snake hunters from the Irula tribe in India.

Certainly, all snake-hunt programs should be welcome, but overall, it's the District's that registered the greatest success. 

SFWMD keeps records of every kill and every hunter's efficiency. The longest python was 16 feet, 10 inches, caught by Dusty "Wildman" Crum -- who also appeared on a live Facebook weigh-in for capturing the program's 50th python. Oh, yes, and ask Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera about his snake: Making a strictly guest appearance, on one dark night he helped unearth a 15-foot-4 python.

Finding and killing snakes in the vast, wet Everglades isn't for most people. But we should be grateful for the hunters who want the job and who do it well. It's an important contribution to Florida, and it represents taxpayer money well spent.

You want Everglades restoration? Killing exotic Burmese pythons is the real deal.

SFWMD Executive Director Pete Antonacci is already telling folks he'll recommend the Python Elimination Program be extended or become permanent at Thursday's Governing Board meeting. If only all decisions were so easy. I say, let's go permanent.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

Eliminating pythons, rattlesnakes, any snakes really, is what the public like. No noisy campaigns for the protection of reptiles, i.e. snakes. I'd like to see campaigns with massive media coverage on several endangered snake species, for example indigo snakes in Florida. Will these animals ever get help or this popular catching and killing movement goes on to satisfy the public's fear and ignorance of snakes?

Keep the hunt plus put a bounty on every snake caught. http://freedomnews.today/

If someone told you that they had put forth a massive hunt over several years and produced a handful of squirrels. This years hunt produced 154 squirrels and from that they conclude there are 150,000 squirrels, you would think that their reasoning may be a bit off. I have spent 10 years in Florida and spent over a thousand hours driving back roads in the Everglades. I have never seen a python. I have spoke to hunters and rangers and they haven't seen python either. I have seen thousands of alligators however. I believe there are a lot of alligators and very few python. My theory that python are being used as a scapegoat for the real problem. The problem in my opinion is the huge numbers of man made developments being built to the north of the Everglades. They pour tons and tons of pesticides in these development to make their laws look beautiful and those chemicals leach their way into the Everglades. The wildlife is saturated with poison including mercury. Do python infect the wildlife with mercury - no humans do. Pythons make a nice scapegoat to point at while people make money. If you want to find the problem, follow the money and not the pythons!

So let's see . . . . . . we spent somewhere around $80,000 to kill 154 pythons (~ $500/snake), which took 25 hunters working 60 days to root them out (we don't know exact hunting hours, but let's assume 25 hunters working 6 days/week or about 50 days, which means 25 men x 50 days/154 snakes = 8 man-days/snake) . . . . . . . . so even if the pythons didn't reproduce while we hunt them, nor do we get diminishing returns as we hunt them, that means it would take around 18,750 man-days to kill 150,000 pythons (51 man-years), at a current cost of around $75 million . . . . . . . who believes this is a long time, cost-effective solution . . . . . . . short-term, it highlights the issue, but doesn't solve the problem . . . . . . .

What is your suggestion?

Suggestions: (1) Create a Python Ranch and Research Center (25 acres) to study and understand behavior/effective control plus generate revenues (tourism). (2) Develop detection methods (dogs, crows, sensors) to assure absence of pythons, especially in residential areas. (3) Be very proactive against emerging invasive animals, plants and bugs so this does not keep happening.

Unlike you, I believe in facts and science (other Nancy denial of facts & science examples - denial on climate change; belief based on a non-understanding of the science that hypersalinity is not the cause of Florida Bay's seagrass collapses in 1987 and 2005) . . . . . . . . . . . the facts here don't justify this method as a solution . . . . . most likely the best use of the "money" would be to use it for actual science to try and find a more efficient solution . . . . . otherwise, we're just fooling ourselves that this issue is now "solved" somehow . . . . . . . .

You didn't answer the question. What is your suggestion to eliminate pythons in the Florida Everglades?

Sure I did - fund basic research and develop something based on science that works . . . . . . . . . I realize that science research is alien to you, but trial and error hunting dooms the effort (just look at the numbers) . . . . . . by the way, I did divide when I should have multiplied . . . . . . . at 8 man-days/snake, it would take 1.2 million man-days (or about 3,287 man-years) to remove 150,000 pythons if they didn't reproduce or become harder to find once their numbers become less . . . . . . . . funny you didn't notice that . . . . . . . .

Agree it should be permanent, but few recall back around 2010 where the absurd Tea Party mentality in Congress stopped the REAL solution: BAN all imports of exotic animals and especially reptiles! But Republicans claimed that was "bad for small business." Where is the logic in that? So why are we still continuing to allow the import and trade of these creatures (let alone allowing people to keep them as pets or otherwise) and meanwhile expending resources to kill them?

oh nancy. ridiculous article. sfwmd kills a few pythons and spend a bunch of taxpayer money bragging about it on social media. meanwhile they are up to their neck in sugar, fighting the solutions to toxic discharges and a hypersaline florida bay. it's no different than commodus bringing back the gladiator games because he was inept and corrupt.

What a horse's arse comment

The program should be permanent until we've rid the everglades of these aliens to the everglades Eco system. Everyone is so concerned about Global Warming when this is a real threat to the Florida Eco system.

HERE! HERE!.... This program must continue, as these "illegal alien invaders" are as prodigiously ominous and dangerous to Americans' lifestyle as ANY OTHER "illegal alien invader" species allowed to roam our environs unchecked and extensively uncontrolled or documented...

Based on your previous use of those same words applied to immigrants . . . . . . racist bigot as usual . . . . . why should we be surprised . . . . . anyone not like you, an elderly white male from Santa Rosa, is to be demonized whenever possible . . . . . and compared to vermin . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . .

It is making a difference, even if only a small one...

Nancy, nice and informative article. Thank you. You can add that 15 captured pythons got third place in this bounty hunt -- top three hunters likely got a third of the total. That is amazing. Also, add that from June through November will be the worse time to look for pythons because continually warm and wet conditions. To gain ground against pythons there needs to be effective methods of detection and trapping. Best methods are ones that attract pythons insteading of having to search for them. Piles of commercial rabbit poop might be one. For sure, chicken and rabbit hutches attract a lot of predators. (Barking dogs bring alligators from great distances.)

That's a good point, if researchers could find an effective way to lure pythons through methods such as this, the effectiveness of python eradication would skyrocket...

Comments are now closed.

nancy smith
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