SWFWMD considers allowing hunting on some properties, but there's opposition listen12/06/11 Janelle Irwin
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The Southwest Florida Water Management District, or SWFWMD, is considering opening more of its public land for hunting. Recreational users like horseback riders and hikers are squaring off against the hunters to stop the plan from proceeding.
Opponents of increased hunting on three SWFWMD properties are staking much of their debate on the financial burden it could put on the agency. Those properties are Cypress Creek Preserve, Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve and Green Swamp West. Karen Turbeville is married to a hunter, but she thinks the water management district will be stuck with a bill they can’t afford. She says the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC will charge for many of the services needed to regulate safe hunting activities.
“SWFWMD has clearly tried to provide this public recreation, but it is not realistic in today’s economy. FWC provides minimal services without additional charges. 75% of FWC income is from hunting sources. Given these facts, there is a lack of balance in how hunting is administered and paid for.”
Turbeville made a public request for the FWC’s cost to facilitate additional hunting days because she says that information has not been made available. But hunter John Bilotta says hunting is actually a huge source of revenue for preserved areas like the three in question.
“Sportsman licensing revenues account for more than half of all the funding for state natural resource agencies. 300 million additional monies contributed to wildlife conservation every year by more than 10,000 private hunting advocate organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. 4.2 billion amount of money sportsman have contributed to conservation through the Pittman-Robertson Act established in 1937. Now those facts, that’s a lot of money. Most of the land we’re talking about has been funded by hunters.”
And hunting advocates also argue allowing more hunting days is only fair. Danny Brantley of the Kissimmee River Valley Sportsman Association says equestrian groups, among others, are trying to monopolize land everyone should be entitled to.
“We’re looking at 122,951 acres of land on this deal, but only 23,400 are considered for hunting. Out of that there’s only going to be 105 hunting trips and that comes down to on 12 days of use of this property. Well, there’s 353 other days for the equestrians to use this property. Twelve days is not asking for very much.”
Hunters are left with a very small percentage of usage on district lands. The plan would add less than 10,631 acres to the nearly 132,752 acres already available. But Brad Spacone who is a homeowner near one of the proposed hunting areas, told agency staff to base their recommendation on the number of hunters compared to other recreational users.
“The fairness at stake here, I got some information that says SWFWMD owns 340,000 total acres for public use. Hunting is designated for use in 129,000 as of right now. My math says that is over a third of the property is what the hunters get to use. Less than 1% of the population has a hunting license and last year’s total population in Florida was over 18 million. In conclusion, if anything we should reduce the number of acres to reflect a more equal percentage.”
And of course where there’s hunting there’s guns; and in this case even archery. This worries homeowners who live near proposed hunting boundaries. The Cypress Creek tract backs up to several homes as well as a school. Russell Watrous is a former homeowner association president who says hunting doesn’t need to occur in people’s backyards.
“When I was president of the homeowners association in 2008 a hunter dropped a deer about 30-feet from the fence behind one of the homeowner’s houses on Hornbill Circle. The position of the hunter and the position of the deer, where he fell, was witnessed by one of the neighbors there and also by two of the daughters of the homeowner there. One of them was nine and one of them was 13 and they had been watching the deer for some time.”
But the regional director of United Water Fowlers of Florida, Chuck Echenique doesn’t think people need to be concerned about safety. He said many of the claims made by those opposed to hunting are either not factual or taken out of context.
“There is a vast amount of misinformation and fear mongering going on that has criminalized hunters. I find it extremely offensive that people feel the need to monitor my legal activity when their legal activity does not need to be monitored.”
Hunters also contend they are providing a service in areas where feral hogs have become a nuisance. Echenique claims contracted agencies kill hogs late at night, a service he says taxpayers are footing the bill for. SWFWMD staff will make a recommendation to the governing board on December 20 at their regular board meeting in Haines City.