SWFWMD considers allowing hunting on some properties, but there's opposition

12/06/11 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.

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Chicken Little Hates Hunting

Ms. Irwin, you were there and witnessed with your own eyes and ears the vast spectrum of lies, fales information, and fearmongering that went on in the meeting. People claiming that hunters would be shooting arrows into the air over the schools, riding ATVs recklessly (when they aren't even allowed on public lands in Florida) and the usual comments about gunfire, alcohol, and trash. People make these claims about hunters NOW on these lands when we're not even allowed to hunt there yet. They act as though they speak the truth and become incredulous when you question their motives. The most common refrain we hear is that no one is against hunting, just no expansion of hunting or no hunting on parcel "X". However, the facts remain clear. Hunting is safer than all the other activities currently taking place on these public lands. Hunting brings forth increased revenues to state agencies. Hunting provides a valuable tool for the control of invasive and predatory species, as well as a way of controling indigenous game populations. And last, as opposed to most other activities which require significant improvements and infastructure, hunting requires nothing more than access to a primitive area for it to occur. Rather than highlighting the outlandish rants of the irrational and emmotional people against hunting at all costs, why not present all the facts and figures which were provided to you so that rational folks can make an informed and reasoned decission. At this point, the arguing is out of our hands and into those of the Governing Board at SWFWMD. From my vantage point, that's an equally precarious position to be in as leaving it up to the vocal minority in the anti-hunting faction.

I have been an avid conservationist as well as a hunter,I have listened to what ms. irwin has said, not the first bit of knowledge is in her statements.The whole reason for the watersheds and wildlife areas is for the lack of healthy areas for the wildlife to grow,the more concrete you pour,more housing more golfcarts more pesticides that are used on our yards keep forcing the wildlife into areas like these which has to maintained ,if not, it will starve and there won't be any.harvesting is a better word for what hunters do,the same as you do when you pick vegetables in your garden.the best thing to do lady is to move and let someone who enjoys wildlife live there,or someday you will have to live in a manage area.hunters are more concerned about and contribute more revenue than any of your hen party ladies,mam, sit back and enjoy the rest of your years,and pull the weeds in your own backyard first before pulling someone elses.God Bless