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Hunters Oppose Green Swamp Hog Trapping

by Aaron Portwood | Managing Editor

Some Green Swamp Wildlife Management Area (WMA) hunters are up in arms over a land management decision to trap an unknown number of feral hogs off the property prior to the start of the 2007 hunting season.

In a series of letters and emails to several state agencies and the Governor’s office, Florida Archery Association (FAA) Release Editor and State Bowhunting Committee Representative Shannon K. North alleges that hogs are being “stolen” from hunters by trappers allowed to take hundreds of the animals prior to the opening of archery season.

“These trappers are stealing the hunter’s game, which they pay for by buying licenses, management stamps, archery permits, etc. Why did they have to trap just before archery season? The results of this injustice showed this weekend at Green Swamp. Approximately 500 hunters and only one hog taken,” North said.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) purchased approximately 110,000 acres in the Green Swamp to keep the land and water resources protected for future generations.

This area is known as the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve. The Preserve is divided into three management units: Green Swamp East (67,670 acres), Green Swamp West (37,350 acres) and Little Withlacoochee Flood Detention Area (4,446 acres). When combined with the 63,522 acres of adjoining publicly owned land, there are about 172,988 acres of the Green Swamp under public ownership.

Green Swamp WMA (or Green Swamp East) consists of nearly 50,000 acres in Lake, Polk, and Sumter counties.While the property is a part of the state’s public WMA hunting land system managed by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), SWFWMD is the lead manager of the property and has the discretion to utilize a variety of land management techniques, including trapping of the wild hog population.

Wild hogs occur throughout Florida in various habitats, but prefer moist forests and swamps and pine flatwoods.Hogs feed by rooting with their broad snouts and can cause great damage to property, sometimes leaving an area looking like a plowed field. SWFWMD’s Green Swamp WMA website states, “Exotic animals, too, can upset the natural balance in this fragile environment. Feral hogs, introduced centuries ago by Spanish explorers, have damaged entire forests and pasture lands within the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, and continue to pose a threat to the area’s ecosystem.”

In a response to North’s inquiry, SWFWMD Land Manager Kevin W. Love states, “The District’s primary mission in the management of conservation lands under its stewardship is to manage the water and related natural resources to ensure their continued availability while maximizing environmental, economic and recreational benefits. An important part of protecting these resources is the control of invasive exotic plants and animals.

“The destructive potential of feral hogs on native wildlife and habitats is well documented and the feral hog is recognized as an invasive exotic animal. Therefore, the District’s policy in the management of feral hogs is to maintain their numbers at the lowest possible levels. This position is widely shared by the other conservation land managers in Florida and the conservation community in general,” Love wrote. Love continues to state, “To illustrate, Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Plan, under the section heading Multiple Habitat Threats and Conservation Actions (p. 436) recommends: ‘Create hog management plans for all managed conservation lands that have a goal of zero hogs unless they are needed as prey species for semi-dependant species like Florida panthers. Coordinate and integrate all plans among agencies.’ “The SWFWMD manages all invasive exotic species on the 330,000 acres of conservation lands under its stewardship according to this principle,” Love adds.

“The District makes available over 140,000 acres of its lands for hunting as WMAs in cooperation with the FWC. Hunting regulations for Green Swamp WMA, and all its WMAs, include feral hogs as legal to take, with no size or bag limits, as a dual means of providing a control on feral hog populations and a source of sport and recreation for Florida sports men and women,” Love says.

“The Green Swamp WMA hog hunt has resulted in an annual average of 285 hogs harvested per year during the period 2000-2006. With the large size of the area and high productivity of the habitat for feral hogs, this harvest rate has proven insufficient in achieving the District’s goal of managing the population at minimum levels, much less the Wildlife Legacy Plan’s guideline of “zero” population,” Love adds. “In fact, in recent years the number of hogs and severity of hog-related habitat disturbance observed by land managers in the Green Swamp WMA is among the most severe of any District land.

“The District contracts with feral hog trappers as an alternative means to control feral hog numbers on its conservation lands; both on non-hunted lands and as a supplemental means of control on WMAs,” Love says.

“While maintenance of feral hog numbers at or near ‘zero’ is the District’s goal as well as the goal of Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Plan, we understand that this goal, while appropriate, is currently not attainable in Florida. We are confident that supplemental feral hog trapping is not in conflict with, nor does it impact the quality hunting experience on the Green Swamp WMA,” Love concludes.

In a response, North states that the supplemental hog trapping has a direct impact on the quality of hunting experience on Green Swamp WMA for all hunters and asks why hunters were not notified prior to the hunting season that hogs were trapped out of the area.

“Your organization has done an injustice to the hunters of this state. They have spent their time and money for the recreational use of this public land with no recourse but to take this matter to higher authorities,” North states.

“I assure you that all hunters in this great state of Florida will be made aware of the Wildlife Legacy Plan – to destroy all feral hogs on management areas to extinction with monies that hunters contribute for their privilege to hunt,” North responded. In a reply to North’s additional questions, Love stated that hog trappers are not paid a fee to perform the trapping, but are compensated by being allowed to keep the hogs trapped and sell them to a state-licensed quarantine and slaughter facility.

“The (SWFWMD) District conducts a wide array of management tactics on the conservation lands under its stewardship. While it is impractical to inform every user group of every specific management activity planned or taking place, we do coordinate closely with the FWC on all management activities that take place on our WMAs,” Love wrote to North.

“I believe the hunters of Florida are getting the short end of the stick on management areas run by SWFWMD,” North said. “The quality of these hunts have apparently suffered due to their management style, costing Florida hunters money and wasted time in hunting these areas.” “As you can see, the Govenor’s office passed the buck to SWFWMD to respond to this manner. SWFWMD’s response indicates that their goal is a ‘zero population’ of hogs. It’s all politics, and no one is being held accountable. The Governor’s office doesn’t want to respond, SWFWMD runs the management area and the FWC has no teeth in the matter,” North said.

According to Love. the SWFWMD’s contract trapper removed 352 hogs from the Green Swamp East WMA in 2007. According to the trapper and his buyer he was paid an average of $10-12 per hog (depending on size and condition).

After the first week of the 2007 archery season a disabled Green Swamp hunter contacted Woods ‘N Water to complain that he had not seen any hogs where he has historically observed many. The hunter stated that he monitored one of the two Green Swamp WMA check-in stations and confirmed North’s claim that only one hog was checked out by hunters.

North reported that the total game taken in the WMA through the first four weekends was two does and five hogs.However, data provided by FWC Public Hunting Areas Biologist Jason Burton showed 19 hogs had been harvested through the first four weekend hunts (11 days), compared to only 4 hogs during the entire archery season in 2006, 14 in 2005 and 15 in 2004.There was one remaining weekend hunt on the Green Swamp WMA when this article was completed. In a follow-up email, Burton clarified that the Florida Wildlife Legacy Initiative (a colloaborative effort between a wide variety of agencies and stakeholders) is not recommending that all conservation lands adopt a “zero hog” strategy.

“The Initiative document makes multiple suggestions on how to deal with feral hogs, which can be viewed at http://myfwc.com/wildlifelegacy/. “It is perfectly acceptable for land managers to adapt a management strategy of a zero hog population; however, the Wildlife Legacy Initiative lists a wide variety of suggestions (pages 435-438) and sport hunting is identified as a management tool in several of those suggestions,” Burton said.

“FWC does support the population management of wild hogs especially on those properties were sensitive or endangered habitats are suffering damage. Generally, FWC supports the management of hog populations by sport hunting. To promote the management of feral hogs through hunting opportunity, FWC has liberalized the bag and size limits on most WMA’s, allows hunting of wild hogs during small game seasons on WMAs and offers new/additional hunting opportunities when possible,” Burton said.

“FWC will be adding numerous hog hunting opportunities on WMAs next year (including both still hunts and dog hunts). While FWC supports and promotes sport hunting opportunities, we also acknowledge that the management goals and strategies of other agencies may differ.“Hunting may not manage hog populations sufficiently and trapping is an appropriate alternative when additional hunting opportunity is not appropriate,” Burton added.

“Land managing agencies are often in a difficult position of balancing the recreational use of public lands by multiple user groups that recreate on the public lands. Therefore, it is not always an acceptable alternative to other land managers (or other user groups) to manage hog populations through additional hunting opportunities,” Burton says.

“My point is that feral hogs are widely considered as damaging and requiring integrated control measures in addition to merely annual hunt harvests, by those of us concerned with protecting healthy native habitats and species,” Love told Woods ‘N Water in an email.

“While the Wildlife Legacy Plan’s recommendations allow for flexibility by offering a myriad of alternatives for hog control, depending on the particular managing entities goals, I feel that most public conservation land management agencies in Florida would opt for the ‘zero’ outcome were it realistic,” Love said.

Among a long list of major proposed rule changes unveiled by the FWC in September is a proposal that harvest restrictions concerning wild hogs on WMAs be streamlined to eliminate confusing and contradictory rules that vary from one WMA to another.

Currently, wild hogs are managed as game animals on some WMAs and as feral hogs on others. The new rule proposals would allow wild hogs to be taken during any season open for taking game mammals, unless prohibited by specific area rule.

These changes would standardize and simplify FWC regulations regarding the take of wild hogs on public lands.The FWC is expected to hear public comment on the proposed rule changes at its December, 2007 meeting.