County OKs hunting on some conservation lands
Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 10:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 11:14 a.m.
Local hunters can look forward to exploring Alachua County Forever conservation lands in search of white-tailed deer and wild turkeys in the not-so-distant future.
The following sites would be available for hunting:
Balu Forest, Lake Forest Creek -- Wainberg, Little Orange Creek, Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve -- River Styx, Mill Creek Preserve -- north and southeast tracts, Newnan's Lake Conservation Area -- Little Hatchet Creek, Northeast Flatwoods Preserve, Phifer Flatwoods Preserve Addition, Prairie Creek -- Crevasse Ranch, and Watermelon Pond Preserve -- Gladman and Metzger.
Hunting would be banned at the following sites:
Barr Hammock Preserve -- Ledwith Lake, Barr Hammock Preserve -- Levy Prairie, Cofrin Nature Park,Lake Alto Preserve -- North, Lake Alto Preserve -- South, Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, Mill Creek Preserve -- SW Tract, Paynes Prairie Additions -- Edwards, Paynes Prairie Additions -- East, Phifer Flatwoods Preserve, San Felasco Additions -- Martin & White, San Felasco Additions -- Rolling Meadows, Santa Fe River -- Odum, Santa Fe River -- Osceola Land & Timber, Sweetwater Preserve, Turkey Creek Hammock Preserve, Watermelon Pond Preserve -- Ferran, Watermelon Pond Preserve -- Williams King
The Alachua County Commission approved the Alachua County Forever Hunting Business Plan on Tuesday, which lays out principles for recreational hunting on some of the properties acquired through the land purchase and conservation program.
County staff developed the plan, which recommended about 8,000 acres be opened for hunting and about 10,000 acres remain closed to it. A key benefit of hunting is its ability to help manage wildlife populations, officials said.
Staff previously discussed the issue with various stakeholders, including local hunters and environmental groups, said Ramesh Buch, program manager of Alachua County Forever.
The idea to permit hunting on these conservation lands has been around for years, but the county concentrated on developing a guiding plan over the last year and a half, he said.
Hunting is already permitted on some Alachua County Forever properties, but the business plan establishes an overarching hunting policy for the program. The county has given limited hunting rights to small groups or individuals in the past who agreed to serve as caretakers of the land in return. These partnerships reduce the county's stewardship costs.
Commissioner Susan Baird said she was comfortable with the plan, especially given the 10,000 acres that will be kept hunting-free.
"It would take a person a long time to start getting bored with 10,000 acres," she said.
For county-managed conservation lands, recreational hunting for various properties will generally be overseen by either the county or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Buch said.
The FWC can manage public hunts on lands for which it is designated to handle hunting through an agreement with the county. Meanwhile, the county will manage hunting through license agreements with individuals and groups, he said.
These agreements would usually be for either long-term caretaking partnerships -- often lasting three to five years -- or short-term special hunts.
Hunting will not be permitted when the lands are open to the public for other uses.
Managing recreational hunting will increase staff workloads and operating costs. Hunting revenues will be used to offset those costs and to reinvest into the Alachua County Forever portfolio, according to the business plan.
The county's liability risk will also increase by permitting hunting, Buch said.
Commissioner Lee Pinkoson countered that he doubted the injury risks of public hunting are worse than those resulting from allowing people onto conservation land for other recreational purposes.
The key distinction between activities like bicycling or horseback riding and hunting is that the injuries for the former are generally suffered by participants and not bystanders, unlike hunting, Buch said. But he emphasized that data shows hunting is a safe activity.
"By and large, all the hunters that I have met are very safety-oriented," he said.
Game species of local importance include the white-tailed deer, wild turkey and wild pig.
The county doesn't plan to allow people to hunt alligators, which is a strictly regulated practice, or snipes, doves or quail on lands for which it manages hunting, Buch said. The FWC could have different policies.
Reducing the feral pig population is necessary but is not considered a recreational hunting practice, he said.
Commissioner Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV emphasized the importance that local hunters, who live and pay taxes here, receive preference over visitors. Staff will evaluate ways to address that, Buch said.
Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson recused himself from voting on two properties listed in the plan as open to hunting - Little Orange Creek and Prairie Creek: Crevasse Ranch -- due to a conflict of interest because of his involvement with the Alachua Conservation Trust, which oversees them.
The board approved the sites' inclusion in the plan as properties open to hunting.
Pinkoson suggested county staff re-evaluate another property, the Barr Hammock Preserve sites for Ledwith Lake and Levy Prairie, to potentially permit waterfowl hunting. The business plan lists them as closed to hunting because staff felt the property was best left as a refuge for waterfowl where locals could see these birds up close, Buch said. He doubted staff would change that recommendation.
With the approval of the business plan, staff will now amend the preserve management plans for individual Alachua County Forever properties to address the hunting issue and bring them back for commission approval, he said.
The commission also approved the 60 percent plans for the second phase of the Archer Braid Trail, a bicycle path projected to run from the city of Archer to the University of Florida and beyond.
The county is managing the construction of a portion of the path running from Archer Road to Kanapaha Park by way of Haile Plantation and Tower Road.
Although the board approved the plans, it directed staff to make a couple changes regarding concerns that included the path's proximity to the right of way.
The 6 percent plans will come before the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization on Feb. 4 and are due to the Florida Department of Transportation by March. Construction should begin in fall 2013.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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