As hourly wages go, the pay isn’t much. But job security could be high.
On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District approved a two-month-long, $175,000 pilot project to pay 25 hunters to rid swamps of Burmese pythons, the prolific Asian snake that has spread across marshes and is now considered the region’s top predator.
Members of the python posse will be paid $8.10 an hour plus $50 for every four-foot snake bagged, plus $25 for each additional foot of snake. That’s $100 for a six-foot snake.
Pythons first showed up in South Florida in the 1980s, likely released by pet owners. Their numbers began climbing precipitously in the mid 2000s, showing the snakes had clearly taken up residence in marshes very similar to their native habitat. Over the years, the state has launched a number of efforts, mainly focused on trying to track the perfectly camouflaged snakes.
While some have long called for a python bounty, biologists worried that paying for the snakes might create a cottage industry that depended on their presence.
But with numbers so high, district officials concluded something more needed to be done.
“As bad as this is, we cannot afford to sit back and do nothing,” district board member Kevin Powers said at Thursday’s meeting.
While the project calls for just 25 hunters, district land resources chief Rory Feeney said he expects to get far more applications so he will likely make selections based on experience and commitment. Hunters will be allowed to drive over district land as well as use boats, both with and without motors. Hunting permits will be good seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Hunters will be paid on site for each python killed. A $150 bonus will also be paid for pythons on nests with eggs.
Registration opens March 10 at www.sfwmd.gov with open enrollment on March 18 at the district’s Homestead field station. Orientation will be held March 25 with the hunt starting on April 1. Program details can be found here.
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich