Bill Would Allow "Hunting Teams" to Capture Tegus and Other Invasive Species

State Sen. Frank Artiles has filed a bill that would establish a state-funded hunt to eradicate the invasive tegu lizards threatening native wildlife in the Everglades.
State Sen. Frank Artiles has filed a bill that would establish a state-funded hunt to eradicate the invasive tegu lizards threatening native wildlife in the Everglades.

In February 2013, thousands of amateur Gladesmen and vitamin D-deprived reporters descended upon the Everglades for Florida's very first Python Challenge.

The goal of the contest, which came with a $1,500 grand prize, was to put a dent in the state's increasingly frightening Burmese python problem. But when the four-week challenge came to an end, the contest's participants had captured just 68 of the invasive pythons. The hunt was scrapped until 2016, when participants fared only slightly better.

But legislation filed this week by state Sen. Frank Artiles (yes, the transgender-bathroom-bill guy) would put a bounty on Florida's invasive species in a whole new way. This past Tuesday, the Miami-area lawmaker filed a bill suggesting the state stop screwing around and start paying skilled hunters to tackle the problem.

If passed, SB 230 would direct the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to form "hunting teams" that would be contracted to capture or kill the invasive species.

"I don't think a python hunt once a year with 1,500 unexperienced hunters is the way to go," Artiles tells New Times. "I'd rather have five to ten hunters who are trained at spotting them and capturing them."

Artiles says the legislation is intended to address multiple invasive species, but his bill specifically targets tegus, an invasive lizard that wildlife biologists are calling the next Burmese python. The lizards, which can lay up to 30 eggs at a time, threaten native species such as Florida's roseate spoonbill and the American crocodile by making them dinner. New Times wrote about the Everglades' persistent tegu problem in a November cover story, revealing how the ever-growing population of invasive lizards likely came from a single negligent animal importer in Homestead.

As written, Artiles' bill would establish a pilot program with $300,000 in funding, a figure the senator acknowledges is a drop in the bucket relative to the state's multimillion-dollar problem.

"I think that number is a very small number compared to what is needed," he says. "I truly believe when people start seeing and hearing in committee the epidemic that we're dealing with, they will allocate more money."

Though he has some concerns about logistics, Rodney Irwin, a tegu trapper whose family has lived in Homestead for three generations, says the proposal is "a huge step forward."

"I'm just happy to see they're finally willing to put funding into this effort for capture and removal," Irwin tells New Times. "It's a shame they didn't start this a few years ago, but better late than never."

Artiles says the long-term goal is to attract desperately needed federal dollars to the issue.

"At the end of the day, this is to shine a light and get the research so we can basically open the eyes of the federal government to actually help us," he says. "I want to conserve the Everglades for future generations, not for it to be a python-breeding ground."


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