The federal government has a python removal plan for Big Cypress National Preserve and Florida will allow hunting in state parks.
More paid python hunters covering more land is part of a plan announced Wednesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said he wants to mount a stronger assault against the invasive snake eating its way through the Everglades.
DeSantis gave few details about how the fight will be bolstered during a press conference in Broward County, but said the U.S. Department of Interior has agreed to move forward with a python removal plan in Big Cypress National Preserve.
He also said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida’s Department of Agriculture have inked a deal that will allow python hunting in Florida state parks.
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"We are committed to doubling the resources for python removal in the upcoming year," DeSantis said. "We are putting a lot of money into restoring the Everglades and we want to make sure that ecosystem is strong."
The FWC and South Florida Water Management District both pay hunters to stalk and kill pythons.
The district launched its python hunting program in March 2017 with 25 hunters earning minimum wage with bonuses based on the length of snake.
District hunters have caught 2,320 pythons. The program has an annual budget of $225,000.
FWC hunters caught their 500th python in June. The commission "encourages people to remove and kill pythons from private lands whenever possible."
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"In my personal opinion, we will never get rid of them. They are here to stay," said district hunter Mike Kimmel, who caught the program’s 2000th snake in March. “But since we are properly managing it now, we are stopping the spread and giving our native wildlife a chance.”
Kimmel said he was invited to Wednesday’s announcement at Everglades Holiday Park near Weston as a representative of the Florida Gladesmen.
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Here is the most recent (and smallest) of the 3 American Alligators I’ve come across being strangled/killed by a nonnative Burmese Python while removing Invasive Species out the Florida Everglades. Thankfully I was able to successfully rescue and save all 3 alligators! Very rewarding to save a native AND protected animal life directly from a nonnative and highly invasive predator like the Burmese python that has already decimated 90-99% of our native small mammal populations in the National Park. It’s a long road to restoring the Everglades to what it once was but I feel we are underway! I’ve personally seen an increase in native wildlife populations including raccoons, otters and marsh rabbits in areas I’ve been focusing... there is a light at the end of the tunnel! To watch the full video and the first person POV @gopro video of the rescue CLICK THE LINK IN MY BIO thanks for watching and reading y’all!! #trappermike #realconservation #savetheglades #floridawildlife #wildliferescue #animalrescue #alligatorrescue #gatorrescue #invasivespecies #pythoncowboy #martincountytrapping #martincountyrescue #everglades #florida #floridaman #floridahunting #conservation #floridapython #bountyhunter #conservationist
In a press release that followed the announcement, DeSantis said he is directing FWC and SFWMD to collaborate to ensure python removal training programs are interchangeable, jointly pursue python research, host an annual Python Challenge as opposed to every third year and create additional incentives for veterans to remove pythons.
He also said he wanted more public engagement.
"We have come up with a plan and basically the plan is to increase the expert hunters with South Florida Water Management District and FWC," said Ron Bergeron, a member of the district’s governing board. "We’re going to increase the pressure on a snake that is destroying the natural food chain in the Everglades."
Burmese pythons were first reported as established in Everglades National Park in 2000, according to research reported by the University of Florida.
Native to Asia, the Burmese python is considered one of the largest snakes in the world. FWC's website says it was likely introduced into the Everglades by accident or intentional releases by pet owners. While not venomous, "the giant constrictors have thrived, assuming a top position on the food web."
But it wasn't until March 2012 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed them as an injurious species, prohibiting importation and shipment. Between 1996 and 2006, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 99,000 Burmese python were imported to the U.S.
Today, there is no good estimate of how many pythons live wild in South Florida, but estimates are in the tens of thousands.
Kimmel said he believes hunters are making a dent in the population because he’s seeing more small mammals during his hunts.
VIDEO: Watch epic battle between python and alligator caught by Post reporter.
"I have personally seen an increase in raccoons, march rabbits, squirrels, and all the hunters and airboat captains are saying the exact same thing," Kimmel said.
A 2011 study that looked at small mammal populations in Everglades National Park found declines of between 87 and 99 percent for raccoons, opossums, white-tailed deer and bobcats. The study, which included scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, said no rabbits or foxes were seen in park surveys between 2003 and 2011.