Alligator Management Plan Announced

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The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has announced a new alligator management plan to save money and staffing and allow some privatization in responding to alligator-related complaints.

"The department deals with about 500 complaints involving alligators each year which under the old program resulted in the issuance of about 400 permits and the harvest of about 200 gators, costing $20,000 in revenue alone, in addition to a large amount of personnel time," said Derrell Shipes, chief of statewide projects, research and surveys for the Wildlife Section of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Columbia. "Our aim is to save from one-half to three-fourths of prior program costs and a significant amount of DNR staff time. We also feel it will not jeopardize the future presence of alligators in available habitats."

Because of declining budgets and personnel and the recovery of populations of these animals, DNR has chosen to make significant changes to the alligator management program, Shipes said. "These change are consistent with recent changes in state laws. Under the new alligator management plan, the pre-existing private lands permit program will be continued and provide for broader scale harvest and management of 'problem' alligators reported in a nuisance or emergency context, while minimizing the effort and cost to the DNR."

DNR will retain the services of eight alligator control agents for nuisance and emergency removal of alligators, Shipes said. "These agents will be dispatched by DNR only in emergency or special situations. DNR will continue to subsidize this program. Local governments will be encouraged and trained to be responsible for as much of this work as they can manage.

"Under the new alligator management plan, DNR has contacted the managers of areas such as developments, military bases and state parks and informed them of plans to transfer responsibilities such as removal and disposal to the community," Shipes said. They will be asked to complete a survey form that will allow DNR to issue a permit for the entire summer for removal of a certain number of alligators. The permit will condition the removal, disposal and disposition of the animals. These areas will have the option to either conduct the work themselves or contract with someone to perform this service.

Individual permits will also be issued by DNR to property owners in nuisance situations as needed. These permits will allow the property owner, occupant or manager to remove or contract for the removal of specific alligators. The permits will also condition the removal and disposal and disposition of alligator parts or products. For further information on the DNR alligator program, contact Walt Rhodes at (843) 546-8665 in McClellanville.

"Our department embarked on the removal of nuisance and emergency alligators during the 1970s and formally created the nuisance alligator program in 1988," Shipes said. "We contracted with three to six agents who were dispatched to remove specific alligators. These agents and DNR personnel were the only persons authorized to take alligators. Agents were allowed to process and sell the skins, meat and other parts. Recently, because of sluggish markets for hides and meat, the DNR has subsidized the removal on a 'per animal' basis. This subsidy amounted to about $20,000 in 2005."

Shipes said that DNR would continue the private lands management program implemented in 1995 that involves landowners who possess a minimum of 100 acres of alligator habitat. The harvest is prescription driven and occurs during September of each year.

"The American alligator population has almost come full cycle in South Carolina from historic highs when Europeans arrived to significant lows in the mid-20th century," Shipes said. "With legal protection of the animals and protection of coastal wetland habitats, alligator populations have returned to healthy levels. The presence of these populations and development of coastal and inland areas have created management problems where human land use and the presence of alligators coincide."