To hunt or not to hunt, that is the question on wildlife officials minds moving forward with a plan to allow the first ever alligator hunting season in North Carolina. The State Wildlife Resources Commission has proposed rules that call for a 30-day season. Wildlife Diversity Coordinator Allen Boynton says they’re seeking public comment on the plan now through January 25th.
“We have had requests from a number of people interested in hunting alligators. South Carolina recently started an alligator season and after that happened, the request we received increased.”
South Carolina’s alligator hunting season started in 2008. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas all allow gator hunting, making North Carolina the only state in the alligator’s range which does not allow hunting. Boynton says the season would likely run from September 1st through October 1st.
“No firearms would be allowed to be used to hunt alligators, but could be used to dispatch the animal once it’s restrained. The legal matters of harvest would include catch poles, harpoons, gigs, clubs, bang sticks, and archery equipment. The proposal is to allow people to use artificial lights as well.”
The Wildlife Resources Commission is proposing a take of one alligator per season by a hunter with a permit. The announcement is good news to Kimberly Williams, co-owner of Eastern Carolina Taxidermy in Smithfield says her cliental is also interested in alligator hunting.
“I would say 80, 95% at least. Why go to another state and pay another state to be able to do it, when you can do it in North Carolina and it can benefit our state?”
Williams says she's glad to hear about the plan.
“It’s a wonderful sport, it’s really a lot of fun. Everyone here has done it, we went to South Carolina to do it.”
In addition to generating revenue through hunting permits, alligator hunting could also be a tourism draw with people coming from other states to hunt alligators here. However, the proposal is drawing criticism from some. The reason? The American alligator is listed as a threatened species. Director of the North Carolina offices of the Southern Environmental Law Center Derb Carter.
“Well, it is ironic that we consider it to be threatened, which is one step from endangered, but potentially allowing hunting. We hope the Wildlife Commission gives that serious consideration.”
The American alligator was almost extinct in the United States during the 1950s due to overhunting and habitat loss. The species was listed as federally endangered in 1967 and after twenty years, their populations rebounded. Still, alligators remain a protected species in North Carolina because they look similar to crocodiles.
In Gates County on the Virginia border, the northernmost established population of about five alligators live at Merchants Millpond State Park.
“North Carolina is just a bit different, being at the far northern end of the range. We really don’t have that many alligators, they’re concentrated in a few areas.”
But the majority of the state’s alligators are in southeastern North Carolina. Carter says a recent study conducted by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and North Carolina State University assessed the status and population of alligators in the state.
“The study was conducted over a two year period and reported back to the commission that alligator populations in North Carolina are stable or perhaps slightly increasing.”
The study’s findings were presented to the Wildlife Resources Commission on March 5th, 2015 by NC State University’s Dr. Chris Moorman. The report found that “while alligators were plentiful in the southeastern part of the state, any harvest of adult alligators is not sustainable.”
The WRC announced the hunting proposal anyway, since federal provisions in place allow states to choose whether or not to allow an alligator hunting season. Approval from the Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee is not needed before alligator hunting can be allowed. Wildlife Diversity Coordinator Allen Boynton says stabilizing populations of alligators is the main reason for proposing the hunting season.
“So hunting is managed in such a way as to maintain populations which have recovered largely from the low point that they once were.”
While some feel that allowing hunting would only decrease an already threatened species, others like taxidermist Kimberly Williams say allowing alligator hunting would actually allow wildlife officials to track gator populations more closely, which could bolster their numbers further.
“The money that we pay for hunting goes for conservation as well. If there is not a market or a need for an animal, that’s one of the main reasons why they go extinct and there’s not anyone to actually speak for them. And hunters love animals as much or better than any person you’ll ever find, trust me. A lot of people just don’t understand hunting, but I have to say it is the main conservation society we have.”
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is collecting public comment on the alligator hunting proposal from now until January 25th. You can submit online comments or attend a public meeting, planned Tuesday, January 5th at Bladen Community College in Dublin, Tuesday, January 19th at Swain Auditorium in Edenton, and Wednesday, January 20th at Craven Community College in New Bern. Wildlife Diversity Coordinator Allen Boynton says they’ll use the public’s feedback to hammer out the details of the proposal.
“We have not talked about specifics of the program yet. We’re interested in public comments and then if the commission were to adopt the proposal to an alligator season, we would make a decision where and how many permits would be issued.
Once all of the hearings have been completed and comments have been reviewed, the commission will meet in February and make a decision on whether or not to establish an alligator season. If approved, the first hunting season would open in August 2016.
For more information on the hunting proposal, go to: http://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/ProposedRegulations/2016-17-wildlife-management-rules.pdf
To comment on the alligator hunting season proposal, go to: https://ncpaws.org/PAWS/WRC/PublicComments/PublicEntry/PublicComments.aspx