Lee County commissioner goes on real pork hunt
Published: Monday, January 4, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 4, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Historians believe it was 1539 when explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto unloaded a herd of pigs at a Spanish outpost on Charlotte Harbor. His thinking, they say, is that later visitors to the New World would have a ready source of protein.
He was right. Floridians have been chowing down on feral hogs ever since.
Frank Mann guesses he's shot some 30 pigs in his 68 years. Born and raised in and around Fort Myers, Mann now serves as a Lee County commissioner after years in Tallahassee as a state representative and state senator. Mann's been in politics for 35 years, having been elected to the Florida House in 1974.
Mann and wife, Mary Lee, live in rural east Lee County surrounded by citrus trees — and wild pigs.
This weekend it wasn't about politics, it was about pork, as Mann bounced around in a 1948 Willys Jeep on land he leases, mostly for turkey hunting, from Florida agri-giant Alico.
"You don't often go very far and not see hogs," he said.
How many of the estimated 500,000 wild pigs that call Florida home are in Lee County isn't known. State scientists do say the heaviest concentrations of pigs are west of Lake Okeechobee - that means here, in Lee and Hendry counties.
"We spent over $50,000 last year trapping them at our preserves," Lee County biologist Roger Clark said. "We took 1,000 hogs out of Six Mile Cypress last year and we continue to see just as much damage."
The 2,267-acre Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is an arm of swamp that reaches into developed land between Fort Myers and Southwest Florida International Airport. The hog population there has spilled into neighborhoods bordering the preserve. Some property owners have spent thousands trapping hogs.
"As the lands continue to be developed around the slough, the hogs are pushed into the preserve," Clark said. "In the wet season the slough fills with water. Hogs are not good swimmers and they have low clearance. They seek the high ground."
The weekend hunt
Mann and more than a dozen others share a 2,600-acre hunting lease for which they pay more than $30,000 a year.
There, they hunt turkey and wild boar.
George Mann, Frank's father, started leasing the land, northeast of Felda, in Hendry County back in 1970.
The camp record is held by 13-year-old T.J. Mann, Frank's grand-nephew. T.J.'s been hunting at the camp since he was 3.
"It was the first pig I ever shot,''" said T.J. "He was 340 pounds. There was 200 pounds of meat."
T.J.'s grandpa, Pat, is a contractor who has remodeled many longtime Fort Myers businesses. He believes in salvage and reuse, which explains why well-known Fort Myers names like Snack House and Edison Avenue have been given to various hunting areas at the camp.
On the hunting trip this weekend, only a few hogs were spotted and just one shot was taken. That was by Frank Mann's grandson Campbell, 11. He missed.
T.J. toted his bow around this weekend — it's more challenging, he said — but got no shots off.
So at the end of the day the only pork in camp was brought and fed into the smoker fired up by T.J.'s dad, Ted Mann.
It's not hard to tell there are pigs around, though.
Hogs have a fondness for torpedo grass, and in the many spots where it grows it looks like a demented rototiller was at work.
That's part of the problem. On hunting land, large expanses of turned earth can be seen as a good sign.
However, on the many golf course and manicured lawns of Southwest Florida, such dirt-turning is something else altogether.
Scientists call the pigs "opportunistic omnivores." That means they'll eat literally anything.
Biologist Clark said cutting back on the hog population remains a priority for the county staff, but where it falls on the scale of government priorities given shrinking revenue is up for debate.
"We were discussing that this week," Clark said. "It is a priority, but we determine it on a case-by-case basis. We've got prescribed burning. We've got exotic removal. We've got hydrologic restoration."
To date, thousands of hogs have been trapped and removed from Lee County preserves — the county requires they be killed and not relocated.
Even so, Clark wonders.
"I have to ask if we're doing any good," he said. "Pigs are prolific breeders."
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