Uncategorized -

FWC makes python hunting more rewarding

(Eric Bramblet checking out a python caught in Big Cypress)

*(via MyFWC) – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has launched new programs to encourage the public to help remove nonnative Burmese pythons from the Everglades ecosystem and surrounding area.

Two new programs and a new FWC Executive Order provides incentives and expanded opportunities to remove the invasive constrictors.

The “Python Pickup Program” is a new program designed to encourage the public to remove and report wild Burmese pythons by rewarding participants with valuable prizes. Starting this year, anyone can participate in this new program. People who remove pythons simply must submit photographic evidence of the snake, as well as the location from which it was removed.

Anyone who submits this information will receive a free Python Pickup t-shirt for submitting their first entry.

For every submission received, participants will be entered into a monthly prize drawing, as well as a grand prize drawing to be held next year.

Monthly prizes include snake hooks, custom engraved Yeti tumblers, Plano sportsman’s trunks, GoPro cameras and Badlands backpacks. The grand prize is a Florida Lifetime Sportsman’s License. The first drawing was scheduled for May 2017.

As part of the Python Pickup, people can submit pythons removed from any property in Florida where they have authorization to do so from the property owner or land manager.

A recent Executive Order allows people to remove pythons year-round from 22 public lands with no hunting license or wildlife management area permit required.

“We know many Florida residents and visitors want to help tackle this tough conservation challenge by going after pythons in the wild and removing any they can find,” said FWC Executive Director, Nick Wiley.  “We want to continue to encourage and support this important citizen conservation effort. This Executive Order clarifies regulatory questions and makes it easier than ever for people to remove Burmese pythons from the wild.”

Earlier this year, the FWC also launched a Python Contractor Program which pays participants for efforts to remove Burmese pythons from the wild.

The FWC selected 22 contractors already experienced with capturing wild Burmese pythons. Contractors are paid an hourly wage for their efforts to remove Burmese pythons. The FWC will also pay contractors for each snake removed. The program is similar to one recently implemented by the South Florida Water Management District.

People interested in training on how to identify and safely remove pythons can take part in a Python Patrol Training. For more information, go to MyFWC.com/Python and click on “Python Patrol.”

The FWC will continue to work with the public and partners to explore other projects aimed at removing pythons and other nonnative species.

People can also help with efforts to manage Burmese pythons and other nonnative species by reporting sightings to the FWC’s Exotic Species Reporting Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681), online at IveGot1.org, or by downloading the free “IveGot1” smartphone app.

For more information on Burmese pythons in Florida and the various management programs, visit MyFWC.com/Python.

(Joe Rufin from St Petersburg with a python he caught on the edge of the Miccosukee reservation.)

‘My Python Hunt Challenge’

By Bob Bramblet

As late as the 1980’s, the southern reaches of Florida were an almost untouched wilderness, a seemingly endless area of swamp and sawgrass. The warm climate was inviting not just to the people who moved here among the na-tive plants and animals, but to species from other parts of the world that live in similar climates as well. Sometimes nonnative species are brought here intentionally, and sometimes they hitchhike, catching a ride with travelers.

Most nonnative species that are introduced do not survive, but those that do have the potential to become invasive. While invasive wildlife species are found in many parts of Florida, they are especially prevalent in subtropical South Florida.  Arguably none have had more impact on the fragile Everglades ecosystem than the Burmese python. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has documented breeding populations of Burmese pythons in Miami-Dade, Monroe and Collier counties, mainly within the Florida Everglades, and there have been reports of these snakes in other Florida counties. The impact has been far reaching with native small animal popula-tions decreasing up to 88% for some species. In the case of the everglades marsh rabbits, introduced populations were completely wiped out by Burmese pythons.

In the 27 years I have lived in Southwest Florida I have frequented the Glades, and I have never seen a Burmese python. I know they are there, I guess we just don’t visit the same places. Last winter, I decided to change that.  The excuse was the FWC Python Challenge, a month long Burmese python removal competition that ran from January 16 through February 14.   The commission decided against holding a similar event for 2017, but but say that ongoing training and special licensing for the python removal program will continue. The intent of the program is to allow properly trained and permitted people to remove all invasive exotic reptiles that are encountered during collection trips and anyone is eligible.

On our first weekend, Chris, Eric and I hit the road early and arrived to our first spot just as the sun was rising. This area was not far off the beaten path but seemed to have everything that would attract snakes. We spent the morning walking along promising areas and fishing a little. Both proved fruitless as the day wore on. We came across a few snakes, but no pythons.

By early evening we set up camp. We opted for a National Park System campground instead of winging it and ended up at Mitchell’s Landing on Loop Rd. At around midnight, a front bringing lightning, wind and a lot of rain came through, which made for a fairly exciting night. By morning we were stormless and after some camp coffee, back on the road.

As the sun rose, we found ourselves driving atop the US41 levee looking for pythons trying to find warmth. We were advised by a native that we missed one by minutes and after thoroughly searching nearby came up empty. Alt-hough we were unsuccessful at finding pythons, any day is a great day spent outside and taking in the natural beauty of the Florida Everglades. From the levee the ‘glades stretched out before us as far as we could see. The greens and browns of the sawgrass were broken only by colorful herons, egrets and flocks of rosate spoonbills searching the vast wetlands for snails and fish.

Several pythons have been caught by competitors all over the Everglades. We were encouraged by reports of catches in Big Cypress National Preserve so Chris and I began the following weekend working our way across the State early, stopping by a few remote rock piles and canal banks on the Collier side. Soon we were in Big Cypress and Eric met us from the East Coast side after taking the long way around. We spent the mid to late morning walking levees and trails and finding many snakes trying to warm themselves in the sun along the edges, including several everglades racers.

On the way back to the vehicles we ran into a team from St Pete. Joe Rufin, Ron White and Matt Shapiro were car-rying out their second python of the Challenge. They caught the 10+ footer on the side of a levee where it was stretched out along the bank warming up. Joe told me the three have no previous experience catching pythons but have bagged two in the two times they have been out. He credited their success to “putting in the miles”, referring to the hours of walking back to the remote areas where the pythons were found. Joe also said he was there not just for the challenge, but because he loved spending time outdoors.

That evening we drove a few asphalt roads that evening hoping to catch a few snakes trying to get the last bit of warmth in the chilly air with no luck. Cold and tired, we hit the tents to the sounds of distant owls calling.

The next morning brought more cold. After a hot breakfast and copious amounts of coffee, we broke camp and headed out again. Chris drove east to check out the levee tops while Eric and I walked more miles. We finally gave up for the weekend and headed back. During the drive I reflected on why we were doing this. I recalled the previous evening laying in the tent and listening to the owls and looking across our camp bathed in the light of a full moon. I thought about what Joe told me about the love of the outdoors and smiled. That sounds like a good enough reason for me.

The last weekend my Florida Sportsman teammates Eric and Chris were working, so I decided to work a little closer to home. I did a little research on Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Collier County.

The FWC works with several agencies and organizations to manage Burmese pythons that are established in and around the Everglades. They coordinate their management activities and objectives with other field offices and agencies, Native American tribes, universities and other researchers, and non-governmental organizations so that efforts and projects don’t conflict.

In early 2010, the first Burmese pythons were found in the Reserve. Since then, more than thirty large snakes have been captured within the Reserve and these snakes are believed to have come from the original point source near Everglades National Park.

I have never visited the Reserve so the Python Challenge was just the excuse to check it out. My friend, Photographer Doug Stamm came along hoping for some pictures. It was a cool morning and the sun was expected to shine, warming up the trails we’d be walking. Heavy rains had made the area very wet and the night before a large python was photographed just outside of the Reserve escaping the waterlogged area for the higher ground of a nearby housing area.

Soon after we entered it was clear just how wet the area was. At several points the trail disappeared into water ranging from ankle deep to over knee deep. We walked the trails and the power line road for miles in the morning sun searching path edges and looking deeper into wooded areas. There were many birds and I even glimpsed a large wild boar crossing the trail ahead of us. On our way out, empty handed, we came across other hunters just entering the Reserve. They had hunted the area several times and had not seen pythons. In fact, only one snake had been taken from the Reserve during the hunt so far.

Back at the entrance, we checked out of the Reserve with FWC and met another hunter. His name was Ken Flute and he hails from Ontario Canada. Ken is the hunter who caught the only python in the Reserve, an 8.5 footer, and was headed back in to look for number two. While talking to Ken his motivation for participating in the Challenge was apparent. He obviously loves the outdoors and his youthful exuberance speaks of a childhood spent in the wilds of Ontario chasing snakes and learning about nature.

Team Florida Sportsman ended the event with no python caught, but every day I participated I learned a little more about the invasive Burmese python and a little more about the real intent of the challenge. Although it may be impossible to eradicate Burmese pythons from South Florida, much has been learned about their habits, and FWC officials are optimistic that they will be able to contain this population and reduce its impacts on our native wildlife.

At the very least, opening up the Everglades to thousands of python hunters should result in many more people enjoying the outdoors and maybe learning a little about conservation, ultimately achieving success. Maybe, instead of attempting to eradicate the python which seems here to stay, it’s really about visiting places you have never been, spending time with friends and family in the great outdoors and meeting new and interesting people who share a love of the outdoors.