lot more research is needed before anyone can be sure that any
alligator hunt in North Carolina won’t harm the species. The data just
isn’t there. ”
recently expressed that same opinion in formal comments to the N.C.
Wildlife Resources Commission, which has proposed an alligator hunt in
the state in 2016 and will take public comments in a series of
hearings, including one in Edenton on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and another the
next day at the same time at Craven Community College in New Bern.
to the commission’s public notice, the proposed season would be from
Sept. 1 to Oct. 1, by permit only, with a bag limit of one alligator
that can be taken with a catch pole, harpoon, gig, wooden peg, bang
stick and bow and arrow. A gun could be used only to “dispatch”
alligators that are restrained.
the official public hearing document, the commission states that a hunt
is justified because, “There is increased interest in hunting American
alligators in eastern North Carolina, and population evaluations
indicate that the population can sustain a limited harvest.”
HOW MANY ARE OUT THERE?
doesn’t doubt the interest – generated in large part by increased
sightings of and confrontations, however benign, with alligators – but
he and others have serious doubts about the population estimates and
can see a lot of alligators in one place, but they will be totally
absent in others,” he said. “And what they have primarily based their
numbers on is what’s called a ‘spotlight survey.’” That amounts to
cruising along waterways and using a powerful spotlight to seek the
telltale red shine of gators’ eyes.
Moorman, coordinator of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology
programs at N.C. State University in Raleigh, led the most recent
significant study, in 2012-13, and his report did indeed find plenty of
alligators, comparatively speaking.
research team covered a similar compilation of lakes, rivers and swamps
in 25 counties as a previous survey published in 1986 did, and
coordinated it with commission biologists and officers. They counted
117 gators on 103 routes.
June 2013, according to the report, the team focused more intensely on
the most productive gator locations, and estimated 672 gators on 43
routes, using a statistical model to estimate animals that were likely
there, but hidden from the spotlights.
Moorman’s report concluded that a harvest might send overall numbers
falling by removing females from the population, in large part because
alligators in North Carolina – the northern limit of their range –
don’t grow and reproduce nearly as fast here as they do in warmer
states like Louisiana or Florida. Females here don’t reproduce until
they are 18-20 years old, or perhaps older, compared to 10 years, for
example, in Louisiana. Females ‘gators here also have fewer babies.
his comments to the commission, Dinkelacker stated that, “To my
knowledge, nothing is known about alligator reproduction in N.C… Best
guess scenarios would probably use data from South Carolina, which are
probably incorrect for North Carolina, given the latitudinal and
typically take both males and females, since the sexes look alike,
according to Dinkelacker. Alligators longer than 10 feet are usually
males, but those less than 10 feet long can be either sex. Moorman said
in an interview that his work couldn’t give an accurate estimate of the
total gator population in the state, although that could be done
through modeling if the commission wanted it done. And, he said, the
geographical differences in the population are striking, or at least
were he’s done his work.
example, the teams found 53 alligators in Lake Ellis Simon near
Havelock, in the central coastal region, up from 33 in the last count
in the early 1980s, and 79, up from 40, at Orton Pond in Brunswick
County, but only a few in the most northern sampling site, Merchants
Millpond State Park near Virginia.
a result of the long time period necessary for reproduction and the
geographic distribution, Moorman said, the report concluded that, “even
low levels of female harvest would cause populations to transition from
stable or slightly increasing to a state of decline.”
report also said alligators were most abundant in areas where they are
most protected, including military bases, national forests and private
property with restricted access to water bodies. He pointed out that
alligators in North Carolina are susceptible to harsh winters, and can
be affected adversely by hurricanes, too. That relative abundance in
protected areas, Dinkelacker said, points out the continued fragility
of the population and the likely problems if hunting were to be allowed.
like Dinkelacker, said he’s not necessarily against an eventual
alligator hunt. “We were only concerned … about … what would maintain a
stable population,” he said.
said the surveys in North Carolina have not been adequate to justify a
hunt. “It’s like counting deer,” he said. “You can go out in one area
one night and count 10, then count two in the same area the next night,
then 20 the next night. What’s the real number? You don’t know. All you
can really say is, ‘Yes, there are deer.’ It’s much the same with
alligators. And I’m just not confident that is adequate to justify a
hunt, especially given the long, long time it takes a female to reach
reproductive size in North Carolina. It’s not like Florida, where there
clearly are a LOT of alligators, up to a million by some estimates.
That gives you some margin of error. In North Carolina, there just
isn’t enough data.”
knows that North Carolina is the only state in the American alligator’s
range where a hunt is not allowed, and he knows there’s a lot of
pressure to allow one. But he also noted that alligators can be taken
now, if they are a problem, under a “depredation” permit, by state
the state wants to allow a hunt, Dinkelacker said, it should invest the
necessary resources to get a population estimate that supports the
contention that a hunt is sustainable.
American alligator was listed as “threatened” on the U.S. Endangered
Species List in the 1960s. They had become became scarce early in the
20th century, because of loss of habitat, in part, and unregulated
don’t want the alligator to disappear, for a variety of reasons,”
Dinkelacker said. “An apex predator affects a lot of things.”
For example, they eat nutria and beavers. Those animals, he said, can play roles, some known, some not known, in flood control.
Hammond, a fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service in Raleigh, said that while it’s true that the American
alligator was “de-listed” in the 1980s, the slow reproduction of
alligators in the state make a hunt at least somewhat problematic; it’s
difficult to know what level of hunting would render the population
agency, he said, hasn’t taken a position on the hunting proposal and
would work with the commission if the state decides to allow hunting.
a delicate balance, though,” Hammond cautioned. “If a hunt is allowed,
it would certainly be wise to keep a close eye on what happens. We look
at the ecosystem as a whole, and the alligator is an important part of
too, Dinkelacker said, there’s the simple fact that the alligator is a
native species, and one that many want to see, alive. “It is a
magnificent creature,” he said. “People might be afraid of them, but
many do want to see them, and not just on a wall somewhere.”
like Moorman, noted that no matter the accuracy of the surveys, it is
very clear that alligator populations in North Carolina vary widely by
region, with far more in the southeast and relatively few in the
northeast. While there is some indication the gator is extending its
range northward, both said, if that’s occurring, it’s a very slow move.
Allen Boynton, the commission’s diversity coordinator, said the
regional distribution could be a reason to establish different hunting
rules in different areas, or for allowing a hunt in one area and not in
another, should the commission approve a hunt. “We do that all the
time,” he said. “A good example is deer. We have a shorter season in
the mountains, and we don’t allow dogs in the hunt there.”
Boynton said he believes the numbers do make a case to justify a limited gator hunt, and agreed there’s a lot of interest.
of that interest, he said, is obviously that people are seeing more
alligators – and they don’t want to see them in their swimming pools or
too near them on the golf course – and part of it is the popularity of
“gator hunt” shows, such as Louisiana-based “Swamp People,” on
television. Hunters also hear friends from other states talk about
though also understands the scientists’ concerns. “They (alligators) do
grow much more slowly here,” he said. “But if we do allow a hunt, and
really all we’re doing right now is getting public input, we would take
that into consideration, and we’d be very careful. We’d certainly
increase our monitoring of the population so we’d know what would
there have been a lot of budget cuts in the state in recent years,
Boynton believes the commission could find partners in the state
universities to handle the additional monitoring and research.
also noted that while the number of alligators in North Carolina is
small in comparison to the numbers in other states, the American
alligator population as a whole has been growing throughout the range.
The main reason it’s still protected, he said, is because it’s so
similar in appearance to the crocodile, which is considered more
noted that the commission’s discussion about a potential hunt took into
account the need to maintain a stable alligator population because a
big decline in numbers would diminish “viewing opportunities” that
could affect some businesses.
commission, he said, does not plan to charge for the permit itself, but
could charge potential hunters a $5 fee to enter a lottery to win a
not hard to kill gators, Dinkelacker notes, and he worries about. “You
can just throw out a baited hook,” he said. “It’s kind of like setting
a crab pot. How hard is that? And you can shoot one in a ditch from the
back of a truck. I’m not judging anyone. Again, I’m not against
hunting, and I get why people want to hunt alligators. I just think the
data we have isn’t good yet. I think it is premature.”
There are several ways you can comment on the proposed alligator hunt in North Carolina.
You can attend one of the two public hearings on the coast. The first
is Tuesday at Swain Auditorium in Edenton and other is in New Bern the
next day at Craven Community College. Both start at 7 p.m.
You can email comments to [email protected]
or submit a letter to: N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Proposed
Regulations Comments, 1701 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C.
To Learn More
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. For more news, features, and
information about the coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)