Gator hunting on the rise in Alabama | News
WILCOX COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - You've seen the headlines and the photos, huge alligators have been caught recently in areas across Alabama. State Wildlife officials say this is no surprise, and it's proof of the success of a federal protection order and evidence that alligator numbers are back up to what they call "nuisance levels."
The American Alligator was once a popularly hunted animal in the United States. In 1938, Alabama was the first state to protect the animals due to a dwindling population because of hunting. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service followed suit in 1967 by placing the American Alligator on the Endangered Species list. Two decades of protection enabled the Alligator population to reconstitute itself and in 1987 American Alligators were removed from the Endangered Species list, but they were listed as a federally protected species.
Montgomery County Wildlife Extension Coordinator Jimmy Smitherman says with those protections it's no wonder we're seeing gargantuan gators harvested in the state now that Alligator tags are being issued.
"For years they've been on the protected list. Just recently we decided we could start catching and taking a few," said Smitherman. "In my mind it's a success story for the protection theory."
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources started issuing a limited amount of Alligator hunting tags six years ago starting in the Mobile Delta area of the state.
"This was brought about because of the large numbers of the animals being seen in these areas," explained Chuck Sharp, the District Five Wildlife Supervisor for the State of Alabama. " We were getting a lot of complaints about having to handle so many of these animals. The Department of Conservation decided that since it was up to a point where the calls were becoming a nuisance, we could offer up the opportunity to local hunters to help with the issue."
Alligator hunting is only legal in three venues across the state. The Southwest Alabama venue encompasses the Mobile Delta area of the state. The Alabama Department of Conservation issues 125 tags to hunters in this area every year. The Southeast Alabama venue runs from Barbour County down to the Florida Line and across to Geneva County, 120 tags are issued in that area each year. The West Central Venue is the newest addition to the group. It encompasses Wilcox and Dallas County. Only 50 tags are issued to hunters in this area.
If you want to go alligator hunting, you've got to register for a tag with the Alabama Department of Conservation. Hunters can apply online starting in the first week of June. They close registration by the second week of July. Hunters are randomly selected to receive one tag and sponsored hunts are held during two full weekends of August.
The Alligator caught in the Alabama River near Selma on August 20 was the biggest on record brought in since the inception of the hunting program six years ago. The creature weighed 838 pounds and stretched to a span of 14 feet 2 inches. Previously the record for an alligator caught in Alabama was a 13 foot 4 inch beast that weighed 734 pounds. Sharp says it's normal to see a few gators ranging from 12-13 feet each year, the Selma gator was "quite unusual."
Right now only a limited number of tags are being issues however, there's a possibility that more tags could be issued in the future if there isn't a significant enough decrease in nuisance issues involving Alligators across the state.
"We just came out of the season and I don't think we've reduced the nuisance issues. We'll have to look at the survey data and harvest data for the 2011 season this winter," said Sharp.
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- Alligator Hunting Season in Alabama - Alabama Department of Conservation
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