The Big Cypress National Preserve is closer to allowing public hunting in the 147,000-acre “addition lands” adjacent to the main preserve that were acquired by the federal government in the mid-1990s.
Officials of the National Park Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission held a public meeting Thursday at the Big Cypress welcome center to get public reaction to a revised draft plan for managing hunts in the addition. Comments will be accepted through Aug. 24.
The preferred alternative — developed over the past year — calls for the NPS and FWC to adopt an adaptive management strategy for deer, hog and small game hunts, allowing them to change rules, seasons and bag limits if populations of game animals or endangered Florida panthers start to decline. Stakeholders would be part of the management process.
Hunting in portions of the addition could begin late this year or early next year, according to preserve superintendent Pedro Ramos. “We’re not rushing through this process. We’re going to get this right,” he said.
Still, opposition to hunting in the addition remains.
“I don’t think there should be any hunting in the addition lands,” Shannon Larsen of Lake Placid told the gathering. “Animals, birds, plants and insects are getting the shaft — not the hunters. We have an opportunity to save the new addition lands and keep it as it is. These animals have God-given rights, not just us.”
Larsen’s sentiments were echoed by Bobby C. Billie, one of the clan leaders of the Miccosukee-Seminole nation.
“If you care about your younger generation, leave it alone. Stop trying to kill God’s creation,” Billie said.
But Mike Elfenbein, representing the Big Cypress Sportsmen’s Alliance, insisted hunters love the land as much as anyone else.
“There’s a misconception that the hunter is a grunting animal that wants to kill, kill, kill, and feed some beastly necessity,” Elfenbein said. “People who come here to hunt and fish, we love this place. Please stop fighting so hard to take it from us.”