A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Response to Commissioner Caragiulo regarding Hunting

On September 2, 2015 the Sarasota Herald Tribune ran a guest column written by County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, who apparently advocates recreational hunting in some, yet un-named, county preserves or reserves. 

His column may or may not have been in response to my guest column, which ran on August 21st.  It should be noted that neither of us got to choose our own headline.  

Rather initiate some sort of back-and-forth in the newspaper, I wrote to Commissioner Caragiulo directly and provided him with an annotated critique of his column, which appears below -- my comments are in red:



A public meeting notice published in the Sept. 14, 1949, Herald-Tribune asked: “Attention all hunters — would you like more hunting grounds in Sarasota County?” Frank Meyer’s Nov. 8, 1973, column, “Sarasota Hunting Areas Grow Smaller Each Year” includes this quote from a citizen: “The problem is finding a place to shoot, every year there are more and more houses.”  (Luckily, things have improved since ’49 and ’73 -- there are now 7,295 more acres of public hunting land in Sarasota County than there were in 1973. Over 4/5 of Myakka State Forest (which didn’t exist in ’73) and an area larger than the Pinelands Reserve is open to hunting.) Yes indeed — more development, more roads and more people. (Yes, more people who have moved here without a hunting tradition – people for whom wildlife viewing is a more popular way of enjoying and connecting to the outdoors than hunting).
It was in response to that reality that previous county commissions, with the support of the electorate, (or in other cases now under discussion, the electorate with the support of county commissions) engaged in a tremendous effort to acquire lands for preservation and conservation.
I love that nearly one-third of the total land area in Sarasota County is made up of conservation lands, with more than 47,000 acres owned by the county and paid for by county taxpayers. It is an essential part of our quality of life. Let’s preserve more.
These natural lands provide us the opportunity to enjoy many diverse outdoor activities. Unfortunately, some people hotly disapprove of some (proposed)activities. (Are there any current activities that people hotly disapprove of?)
One (the only?) primary example is hunting. I am one of about 242,000 hunters in Florida. (This 2011 figure, while accurate, masks two facts: The number of hunters is remaining constant as the state grows [smaller percentage each year]* and that hunters are probably somewhere around one percent of the Sarasota population. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored, but it does suggest their recreational desires should be placed in context with those of the rest of the community since there is a certain zero sum aspect to managing land for hunting and we have limited dollars to spend on recreation.) On occasion, I get critical responses from people when they learn that as well as being a conservationist, I hunt. All of the animals I shoot end up in the same place: my freezer.
Emotion aside, hunting is as essential a component of conservation and management as is the clearing away of undergrowth to prevent forest fires. (No evidence is presented in this piece that management hunting per se is required – it is one management tool that can be used in certain situations, and one that has been used on ESLPP land.) [Technical note: we don’t reduce “undergrowth” to prevent fires, we do it to reduce the severity of fires and encourage fire-dependent vegetation.] Such management may include native and non-native species and this management is critical to thriving conservation lands. (What is your source for hunting being critical to thriving conservation lands?)
Don’t believe me? Ask the Sierra Club. It is quite specific about management practices as stated in its position on hunting: "Acceptable (not necessarily desirable in the Club’s eyes, but acceptable) management approaches include (so other alternative techniques apparently exist) both regulated periodic hunting and fishing when 1. based on sufficient scientifically valid biological data and 2.when consistent with all other management purposes and 3. when necessary [for] total protection of particular species or populations." (This is not a menu – all three conditions have to be met to please the Sierra Club. The County will probably have a tough time meeting these three conditions for species other than feral hogs.) I agree totally with this philosophy. The club is opposed to hunting in parks; this is also a policy I agree with. (Some cognitive dissonance here – you oppose hunting in parks, but not preserves and reserves? I suspect the general public is laboring under the impression that preserves and reserves are to be afforded greater protection than parks.)
So let’s look at the reasons behind our county conservation lands. Some were purchased for water, some for recreation, some for county services and some specifically to ensure their delicate habitats remain undeveloped. In the past few days much has been said regarding lands purchased subsequent to the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program approved by voters in a 1999 referendum. This program was expanded in 2005 to include neighborhood parkland. The total amount of land purchased under that program is approximately 18,000 acres, and properties need not be designated “Environmentally Sensitive” to be considered for acquisition. (All ESLPP lands DO need to meet the environmentally sensitive lands test, recognizing that some acquisitions require purchase of other land uses.) Still, these lands are only a portion of our total conservation land inventory. (ARRGH! The commission's failure/inability to identify which other lands it thinks might be appropriate combined with its feigned ignorance regarding the meaning of non-consumptive as used professionally and technically by FWC and USF&WS continues to be the greatest weakness in the county’s current course. The Commission seems willing to rule out county parks [which could easily have been done in the exemption] so that leaves preserves and reserves. The only county land greater than 300 acres not encumbered by the “non-consumptive” mandate is Scherer-Thaxton Preserve, and I have no objection if the county wants to allow hunting there, but I suspect that is not what local sportsmen & women have been led to expect.)
Some say to allow hunting on any county land violates the public trust. I have no way of knowing how specifically citizens feel about management practices, (well, you do – you could hire a firm to do a scientifically valid random survey, which I believe the county conducts annually anyway.) which may change as we acquire more conservation land. (I’ve been very clear that I can and will support acquiring more habitat for uses that include hunting, if voter-approved ESLPP funds are not used. These sources include Pittman-Robertson, SWFWMD, North Port, county general fund, Amendment 1, etc.) I am sure, however, that we want the land protected from development and to preserve the habitats.
Can you currently hunt on any of our county-owned lands? (Actually people have as part of hog management hunts.) No, regardless of the recent change that was made to the ordinance that governs activities on county-owned land. Any areas eventually identified for hunting will still require addressing a series of environmental, wildlife and safety hurdles — including a detailed wildlife management plan.
As reported in the Aug. 24, 2015, Herald-Tribune, “Individual properties identified for hunting activity must still be approved by county commissioners and remain subject to state regulation.” (Approved by consensus? Resolution? Ordinance? No one seems to know what the process for this consists of. Is there a process?)
Diverse outdoor activities have for many years coexisted all over Florida on public lands designated by the state as Wildlife Management Areas (which, unlike ESLPP lands that prohibit consumptive uses, were specifically acquired to accommodate hunting). Hunting activities in these areas are heavily regulated with respect to size, number of permits issued, species that may be hunted and the time and duration in which hunting is permitted.
Good land management provides the opportunity for different types of outdoor activities to coexist. That has been the case historically. (Historically, three decades of county commissions have chosen not to allow hunting on Carlton, Pinelands, and ESLPP lands. Is that because there was little demand? Because demand was met by the State Forest? Or because previous commissions understood what was meant by non-consumptive?)

*In 2011 there were 242,000 resident hunters in Florida[i], a number that has not increased since 1991.[ii] That same year (2011) there were 4.3 million people watching wildlife in Florida (resident and non-resident).



 This photograph of a sign at Sleeping Turtles encapsulates what the County Commission has so far failed to recognize or accept:

Hunting is prohibited on lands acquired through the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP) not because of zoning or prohibitions in Chapter 90-33, but because hunting or the removal of animals (consumptive uses) were specifically prohibited by the terms of the Chapter 54-87 (a) that made the program possible. 

Here's the wording:

Uses of the Environmentally Sensitive Lands protected pursuant to this article will be limited to those activities that are ecologically benign, nonconsumptive and resource-based, except for those uses prescribed within the deeded Use Restrictions.

See also my previous blog posting on the subject: 

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