Hunters gain extra hunting days at two SWFWMD properties but not Cypress Creek

12/20/11 Janelle Irwin
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Two pieces of public property will be opened up for hunters next year. Tuesday morning in Haines City the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) board approved staff recommendation to add hunting opportunities at the Lower Hillsborough Flood Detention Area and Green Swamp West in Pasco County.

But they voted against staff recommendations for hunting at Cypress Creek Preserve. Public outcry at meetings prompted another agency, Tampa Bay Water, to oppose hunting on that land. Their permitting manager, Warren Hogg, said the decision was made with safety in mind.

“The agency does not support hunting because the potential interaction and conflict between hunting and the passive recreation. It’s a public safety issue. Many speakers this morning have said that cyclists, skaters….”

Hogg was quickly interrupted by SWFWMD’s Neil Combee who was one of only two board members in favor of hunting on Cypress Creek Preserve.

“Warren, with all due respect to Tampa Bay Water, that’s really our decision and not theirs. If that’s truly what their position is then it’s our business and not Tampa Bay Water’s.”

SWFWMD board members have had their hands full with public participation on the issue of hunting on public land. Environmental and equestrian groups routinely spoke out against adding hunting days to public lands that are also used for passive recreation. Joe Richards is an attorney for the Pasco County board of commissioners. He said board members could not support hunting for safety and budgetary reasons.

“We also don’t think that legalizing hunting will address the illegal hunting problem that may be present on Cypress Creek and one could argue that that would reward poachers to legalize hunting on this tract of land.”

SWFWMD board member Jennifer Closshey made the motion to reject staff’s recommendation to add hunting opportunities for families and children in Cypress Creek Preserve because it wasn’t fair to displace people who use the land frequently for passive recreation. She said they might not realize when the area is open for hunting.

“And for us to think that they’re going to stop and read something that’s posted in the kiosk I think is unrealistic. And I would be much more comfortable if there was significant signage. If not, someone there standing to give warning because if that family has been in the habit of doing that on an ongoing basis and they’re really looking forward to it then that just seems like we have a greater responsibility to protect them.”

Dennis Dutcher of United Waterfowlers of Florida isn’t looking to take over SWFWMD properties though.

“We come not asking to displace users, but ask for a fair share of representative number of days during state hunting seasons. I’d like to mention that public lands adjoin private lands across the state where hunting occurs with few issues. Concurrent users have never been injured by hunters on public lands in the state of Florida.”

And SWFWMD board member Neil Combee agreed based on the gap between recreational activities.

“Anyway, when you look at 353 days of non-hunting and 12 of hunting, it seems a little silly to think that the world is about to come to an end and we can’t share here.”

Staff recommended allowing only archery on that property. Guns of any kind would have been strictly prohibited. That didn’t stop residents’ whose homes shared a border with Cypress Creek from being concerned. Combee said those fears weren’t warranted.

“But if I’m sitting out in the woods with a bow and people are riding bikes and rollerblading around, I might as well pack up my stuff and go home. It’s silly to think that some how or another people are going to be threatened by somebody sitting in a tree with a bow because you might as well come down through there dragging a string of coffee cans. It’s going to be an exercise in futility.”

It was conversations like those that have opponents of hunting on public lands worried. Brad Spacone said he and other anti-hunting speakers were jubilated, but will stay vigilant.

“We’re cautious because of the hunting proposition maybe, or will, come back up. I don’t think this is their last shot at this property because it’s such a nice piece.”

Cypress Creek may be safe from hunting for now, but other lands might not be. On January 5 in Lecanto, SWFWMD will consider expanding hunting on four more properties. That includes some lands environmentalists consider important habitats for species like the Florida scrub jay, whooping crane and the Florida black bear.

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