By Kyle LoJacono
Hunting enthusiasts in Pasco and Hillsborough counties have had few options close to home to live out their passions, something that may change by the year’s end.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, is exploring opening up eight of its nature preserves for hunting. Three areas include the Cypress Creek Preserve in Wesley Chapel and Lutz, the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve just east of New Tampa and new portions of the Green Swamp in Dade City.
United Waterfowlers of Florida is pushing to open the preserves after successfully lobbying for the same thing from the St. Johns River Water Management District and the South Florida Water Management District during the last few years.
Newton Cook, executive director of United Waterfowlers, said hunters can coexist with birdwatchers, hikers and other people who enjoy the outdoors.
“There are other places throughout the state where people hunt near birdwatchers and there hasn’t been a rash of people getting shot accidentally,” Cook said.
Others are not as confident as Cook the plan would work.
“We don’t want that to go through,” wrote Nancy Kost, a member of the local Audubon Society, in an email. “It’s not safe to hunt and watch birds. They’re not compatible.”
Cook said Kost’s concerns are unfounded.
“We understand these other people’s concerns, even though they are irrational,” Cook said. “They’ve seen the movies and they’ve seen the bang-bang-bang. It’s not like that. They have this conception that it’s going to be this constant barrage and it’s not.”
Cook said the Tampa Bay area has been “hostile” toward hunting expansion. He points out that “Most of the Tampa Bay islands are shut down to hunting.”
Swiftmud already offers hunting at a few of its preserves within the 16-county district that stretches from Levy and Marion counties in the north to Charlotte County in the south.
In Pasco, hunting is allowed in the sections of the Green Swamp in Dade City and the Upper Hillsborough Tract in Zephyrhills. If Lower Hillsborough was added, it would be the first Swiftmud preserve in Hillsborough County where hunting is permitted.
Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix said there have been no problems at any of the areas where hunting is allowed, but added that not every piece of state land is suited for it.
The district started looking at expanding hunting opportunities in 2009. It has already looked at what the impact would be on the natural wildlife and is now in the process of getting public input.
Swiftmud’s governing board is scheduled to vote on expanding hunting to all or some of the eight proposed preserves this fall. For more information on the district’s proposed hunting plan, visit www.WaterMatters.org/HuntEvaluation.
Areas Swiftmud is discussing allowing hunting
–Cypress Creek Preserve, Pasco County
–The Green Swamp West, Pasco County
–Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve, Hillsborough County
–The Green Swamp East, Sumter County
–Lake Panasoffkee, Sumter County
–Weekiwachee Preserve, Hernando County
–Chassahowitzka River and Coastal Swamps, Citrus County
–Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve, Marion County