Feral hog hunt discussion on County Commission’s July 10 agenda

A Sarasota County map shows the site of the proposed feral hog hunts.

Sarasota County commissioners have received more email over the past month about a proposal for feral hog hunts in South County than they did regarding the legality of alcohol consumption on the beach, after a fatal accident on Siesta Key in January involved an allegedly drunken driver.

Since June 29, the commissioners have received about 25 emails. On June 4, the day before the board’s first discussion of the proposal, the commissioners received close to 50 emails.

While the majority of emails about alcoholic beverages supported legal consumption on the beach, almost all the emails about the hog hunts have opposed them.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District has proposed the hunts on a section of Deer Creek Preserve, which is located along the Myakka River in the southern portion of the county, outside Venice.

The hog hunt issue will be back on the agenda July 10, when the commission holds its next regular meeting at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center, located at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice.

The discussion is planned for late in the afternoon session, which will begin at 1:30 p.m.

Elise M. Matthes, president of the nonprofit organization Sarasota in Defense of Animals, has encouraged opponents of the hunts to appear at the meeting. During the June 5 session, Matthes urged the commissioners not to approve the hunts.

An email she recently sent to supporters says, “The ONLY weapons used to kill these huge hogs are DOGS AND KNIVES. That’s right, no guns, they are STABBED TO DEATH.

“Children are allowed to watch or participate.”

The email continues, “The hogs are mutilated and suffer a slow and torturous death …” It adds that the dogs often are maimed by the hogs “and can die a horrible death.”

A county staff memo provided to the commissioners before the June 5 meeting pointed out that the county and SWFWMD “jointly own and manage approximately 6,440 acres in the Deer Prairie Creek Preserve.”

“Per the terms of a joint land management agreement for this Environmentally Sensitive Lands Program preserve,” the memo said, SWFWMD “is designated as lead manager with responsibility for exotic animal control, including feral hogs. [It has] the primary role for determining the control strategies and methods employed.”

The memo added that hog rooting had resulted in increased destruction of sensitive habitat and trails through “our managed natural areas … Citizen complaints about unsafe conditions for hikers, bicyclists and horses as a result of hog damage are also increasing. In an effort to address such impacts, and based on the success [SWFWMD] staff has had using this as a management tool on large tracts in neighboring counties, the [district] approached County staff to propose a hog hunt be coordinated for Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. The hunt would cover jointly-owned preserve acreage and the [district’s] 1,722-acre southern Schewe tract.”

The staff recommendation for the July 10 meeting calls for a feral hog hunting “pilot event” over three nights during two periods — Dec. 11-13 and March 19-21, 2013. The hours of the hunt were proposed as sundown to 2 a.m.

Thirty permits would be available for each hunt. In advance of the June 5 County Commission meeting, the suggested permit fee was $50. That has increased to $75 in the staff presentation for July 10.

Among the more recent emails sent to the County Commission was the following:

“Please do not allow the hog-dog hunt to take place in Sarasota County. It is a terribly inhumane, violent type of hunting and one that is no longer acceptable to the majority of people in Florida.”

Another email, sent July 3, called the hunt inhumane and a form of torture. “We are not barbarians!” the writer added.

As she has with emails sent since the June 5 meeting, Chairwoman Christine Robinson replied to these two: “On behalf of the Commission, thank you for writing and offering your thoughts on feral hog population control. We appreciate that you took the time to write. At the last set of regular Commission meetings, the Commission continued the matter for 30 days to bring the matter back with further information as requested.”

Among the few emails The Sarasota News Leader found that were supportive of the hunt, one sent June 4 by a county resident said, “Please don’t be intimidated by the do-gooders who are worried about the hogs!!! These creatures are destructive!”

Another email, sent July 6 by a hunter, asked Robinson for details about the time of the discussion. The writer said he and several other hunters wanted to attend.