TAMPA (AP) — Each year, the state of Florida gets about 13,000 phone calls regarding nuisance alligators, and some of the people who trap gators for a living are worried about proposed changes to a state program that responds to the large reptiles.
Under the so-called State Nuisance Alligator Program — with the wry acronym of “SNAP” — if the state receives a complaint about a gator from a homeowner, it can send a trapper to catch and kill the reptile if it’s over 4 feet long. If it’s under 4 feet, the alligator is trapped and relocated.
The trappers are allowed to sell the bigger gators’ meat and hide, and are reimbursed $30 per animal by the state.
Proposed changes to the program discussed during a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting on Wednesday mean that state officials are looking to add dozens of new trappers in an effort to improve customer service.
But many of the current trappers — including some who have done the job for years — say that the program worked just fine with 30 or 40 trappers throughout the state. They’re worried that the relatively small share of state money, and the dwindling bounty for hides, will mean they will earn less for their work.
“What we do, we put our life on the line,” said Phil Walters, a trapper and the owner of Gatorguides, a private hunting guide. “We’re nowhere near fair market compensated.”
Trappers said Wednesday that the costs of doing business, particularly the tanks of gas required to get to and from a call, have risen in recent years. And worldwide demand for gator hides has plummeted; farm-raised gator hides are preferred over wild skins.
Adding to the quandary: Some of the new, part-time trappers are willing to do the job for free, just for the experience or the thrill of the hunt.
The commission has decided to hold an alligator workshop in the coming months with trappers to discuss some of their concerns.
Commissioners say the program sets aside $210,000 a year to pay the trappers, but the money is often drained by the end of the year — and yet the trappers still go out on calls, even in the middle of the night and on holidays. Everyone agrees that nabbing a nasty gator is a vital service to Floridians.
“Unlike roaches, gators do eat people,” said commission chairman Kenneth Wright. “They’re a public safety issue.”