Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NRA-ILA :: Hunters Fight for Access in Big Cypress

Thursday, December 01, 2011

In the early 1970s, hunters were instrumental in preventing South Florida’s Big Cypress Swamp from being drained and transformed into the world’s largest jetport.The culmination of that successful effort was the creation of the Big Cypress National Preserve in 1974, a 582,000-acre area situated just north of Everglades National Park that stretches roughly from Miami in the east to Naples in the west.Congress, through the preserve’s enabling legislation, directed the National Park Service to continue managing for traditional activities in the area. This included hunting, fishing and swamp buggy use. The area was designated as a preserve instead of a national park for the precise reason of allowing such activities to continue. Anything less would have been a non-starter for hunters and local landowners in the preservation discussion.

Now, some 40 years later, hunters are battling for access to 147,000 acres of the swamp because radical environmentalists believe it should be off limits to both hunting and Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) access.Traditional UsesThe topography of the Big Cypress makes it inherently difficult to access.“Hunting in the Big Cypress is hard,” said Jack Moller, an NRA Member, hunter and South Florida native who has been active in preservation issues in the Big Cypress since the 1980s. “It is full of bugs, snakes, gators, panthers, bears, bobcats and spiders. There is lots of water and mud so walking is very difficult, and sneaking up on game is most difficult. In most places during hunting season the water is not deep enough, as it is in the swamps of Louisiana, for a canoe to work. There are thick islands of oak trees, cabbage, pines and palmettos.”

Given the near impossibility of traversing the swampy terrain by foot, the National Park Service says ORVs, such as swamp buggies and airboats, have been used by hunters and others to access remote areas of the Big Cypress Swamp since the 1920s.Both hunting and ORV-associated recreation and travel remain central uses of the preserve today. There are more than 500 miles of designated ORV trails in Big Cypress used by hunters, anglers, wildlife observers, and a host of other user groups.“Think of it this way: If you take the horse out of the mountains there would be no hunting in the mountains. The ORV is the same in the Big Cypress,” said Moller.Hunting seasons exist for archery, muzzleloading and general firearms, and hunting on the preserve is managed cooperatively by the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The original preserve is also a state wildlife management area.The Big Cypress offers some of the best hunting opportunities in the state, with the most common species pursued by hunters being whitetail deer, turkeys and wild hogs.Getting in and out of the swamp, however, is no easy feat—especially without motorized access.“There are a number of different major terrain types and each type dictates the design or type of ORV,” said Moller, who owns a hunting camp in the Big Cypress. “Airboats are used in some places, while wheeled swamp buggies are used in other places. Today there are more small ATVs and side-by-side utility vehicles in use, but they do not work when the water is up, at least not well.”

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NRA-ILA :: Hunters Fight for Access in Big Cypress

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