Florida will send snake hunters into remote federal swamplands to kill exotic Burmese pythons threatening native wildlife.
The Big Cypress National Preserve, a swamp that borders Florida’s Everglades, will soon be open to hunters contracted by the state under a plan approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Aug. 7.
Florida also is expanding its python hunting efforts to 130,000 acres of state parks and doubling its resources for python research and removals.
“We’re putting a lot of money into restoring the Everglades, we want to make sure that ecosystem is strong,” DeSantis said at an event in Fort Lauderdale, where he stood in front of several people holding a 12-foot-long, splotchy brown python.
Pythons are an invasive species with no natural predators in Florida. The snakes are believed to have eaten more than 90% of the mammals native to the Everglades, threatening biodiversity in wetlands where the state and federal governments are spending billions of dollars to restore a more natural flow of freshwater.
State agencies responsible for wildlife conservation and Everglades restoration have been paying hunters to remove the snakes from state-owned lands for the last few years.
More python hunters will be hired by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District under the expansion that DeSantis announced, said Ron Bergeron, a member for the district’s governing board and a former wildlife commissioner.
Since 2017, the state’s hunters—who are paid minimum wage—have killed over 3,000 pythons, Bergeron said.
DeSantis also wants the state to make a public hunt for pythons an annual event, though the “Python Challenge” that has been held every three years since 2013 typically nets more attention for Florida’s invasive species problems than it does snakes.
The wildlife commission allows the public to kill pythons found on private lands without permits or hunting licenses.