State Alligator Plan Sets Stage For Hunt

Chris Maroldy

Alligator hunting in North Carolina has surfaced as a distinct possibility for the future, thanks to the work of the Wildlife Resources Commission and its Alligator Task Force.

The idea has been rolled around for several years as alligator populations in the state have grown over the decades since Tar Heels last could hunt the beasts, in 1973. At that time, federal law outlawed taking gators with the Endangered Species Act, although the animals had been on the very first endangered list developed in 1967, under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of the prior year.

A series of subsequent events further re­stricted the supply of alligator products, setting the stage for the American alligator’s re­cov­ery and the healthy populations we see today. In 1969, reptiles were added to the list of illegally obtained wildlife prohibited from interstate commerce. In 1973, 80 countries signed the Convention on International Trade in Endan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the treaty banned international export of alligator skins in 1975. Along with state-level protections, these measures allowed alligator populations to rebound in many parts of their range.

The recovery prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to upgrade alligators range-wide to Threatened status in 1987, while noting that the species was fully recovered and no longer biologically endangered or threatened. It maintains the Threatened moniker simply because of it appears similar to the American crocodile, which does remain on the “real” Threatened list.

Under this classification, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to regulate interstate trade of American alligators today, but individual states may set some seasons and rules. Illegal trade in alligators or alligator parts seems to be very rare, and it’s worth noting that it was unregulated commercial hunting and habitat loss that led to the gator’s past problems. Regulated recreational hunting as practiced today is a whole ’nother kettle of fish, and poses no threat to healthy alligator populations.

So, the NCWRC may now take a second bite at gator hunting with a conservative ap­proach.

Although no season has been set yet, the Commission approved the Task Force’s management plan recently, and that paper outlines the conditions under which alligator hunting could be revived.

The Commission will include a proposal for an alligator season at its annual public hearing round in January, for starters. The hearings are designed to explain the WRC’s thinking on various rules changes that could be coming for the following regulation year (July-June) and to get citizen feedback.

At this point, any alligator season in the near future would be restricted to areas where gator populations are largest, and would be on a limited, permit-only basis. Hunting is likely to be limited to the month of October (possibly through Nov. 1), after earlier proposals to open in September were deemed to interfere potentially with alligators’ care for their young.

The plan makes provisions for an Alligator Management Unit (AMU 1) that runs from the South Carolina up through Hyde County, separate from the rest of the state (AMU 2). It’s in AMU 1 that most of the hunting would take place, if approved, while the management plan allows local governments in the rest of the state to develop carefully controlled means to deal with occasional nuisance alligators congruous with management goals.

In the meantime, it remains illegal in North Carolina to feed, harass or harm alligators.

The Task Force also calls for additional alligator research and advocates for increased education to help the public coexist with alligators, and its management plan document offers a lot of biological information about the reptiles. It can be found at tinyurl.com/y9vrjlkg