Friday, August 24, 2012

Alligators in Virginia - The Search Begins - With Your Help

Chowan tributary headwaters in North Carolina - site of northernmost
government-acknowledged wild alligators.  This swamp and river
continue well past the Virginia border (18 miles away), where the
state and federal government swear that there are no wild alligators, ever.

Roughly 15,000 inquisitive folks have read my three blog posts on why, how, and where wild alligators are headed into Virginia...assuming (for a moment) that they aren't there already.  Read them here:

One:   Refuting the Baseless Claims that Wild Alligators Do Not - And Cannot - Live in Virginia
Two:  Analysis of Potential Alligator Habitat North of the VA-NC Border
Three: Analysis of Virginia Areas Where Wild Alligators Are Most Likely to Settle and be Left Alone

So what's the deal with this topic, and who cares?  In a nutshell, the American Alligator came off of federally threatened listing about 15 years ago. In various parts of its range (Virginia to Texas), it is protected, or hunted, or reviled, or revered.  Managing the South's apex wetland predator (besides panthers, which are functionally extinct) is a tall task, in other words.  And the name of the game with such wildlife management tasks is too often to pretend that something doesn't exist, because federal and state law require a certain set of expensive, tedious actions if a wildlife agency acknowledges that such a species is, indeed, present within their jurisdiction.

We know that released alligators (I make the distinction between them and wild gators for a variety of reasons) can live for several years in wetland and open water habitats in eastern Virginia - perhaps as far north as Richmond.  We know that just a dozen miles south of the VA-NC line, wild alligators are successfully reproducing.   And we know, from reports by hunters, boaters, and other outdoorsfolk, that mature wild alligators spend some summer days in nights in Virginia water bodies that drain to North Carolina.    So, perhaps you'd like to see what the Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries has to say about alligators, in their own words:

1) The alligator is legally a non-native reptile, no different than a Chinese bullfrog
2) Rabbit predators include alligators (but not in Virginia)
3) "Here in Virginia, we don't have any alligators"
4) Alligators are not native or naturalized to Virginia
5) Alligators are exotic and undesirable to the Commonwealth of Virginia
6) "I don't believe there's a connection"

All this being the case, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has actually got me.  Why? I can't spend endless days beating back canebrake and trying to look for the northernmost alligator nest in North America, just to prove it has successfully migrated into Virginia, just to make VDGIF look dumb (although, they've done a good job of that with the above quotes).

Photo from Let Them Eat Meat
Fortunately, someone else can, though!  Meet Jack Landers, author of "Eating Aliens," "Hunting Deer for Food" and "The Locavore Hunter." Jack is trying to organize an alligator search in the southern Virginia swamps where I'm convinced the big lizards are already spending their summers.

Here's where I'd like you to go click and send Jack a few dollars for the requisite travel expenses.  Do it.  Just a little cash.

Why does Jack think it's worthwhile?

There is still no solid proof that they are here in Virginia. State and federal officials deny that it is even possible. But it is also a fact that nobody has gone out to deliberately look for them.

What difference does it make whether there are gators in Virginia? Plenty. This would provide evidence that global warming has already changed this ecosystem with the arrival of a new top predator. And if there are alligators here then we're going to have to decide what our relationship is going to be with them. Are they invasive, or a native species naturally returning to its ancient range? Will they be removed or protected? None of the policy-makers will even have this conversation until we know for sure that the alligators have arrived.

So donate a little money, and let's see where this goes, shall we?


Doc Outlaw said...

I've learned never to trust state wildlife agencies, ever since my experience with Colorado's DOW over chronic wasting disease data. They at first claimed the disease wasn't contagious, until that was obviously false, then they said it was contained. When that also proved to be wrong, they took the "we're the experts, trust us" approach and stonewalled people. When they do stuff like that everybody suffers. I expect the people living near the possibly infested waters would at least like to know if they need to be on the lookout for alligators.

Kirk Mantay said...

Well, Doc, the nature of how their internal processes (protocol) works is that if they KNOW something exists, then they have to ACT, which costs manpower and money. And so, damned be science, logic, and common sense, they will DENY as long as possible.

Happened in Virginia with Elk. Herds have been reintroduced in neighboring states, and obviously the dumb critters walk across the border, whereupon they are shot and tagged as "whitetail deer" by Virginia hunters. Standard ear tag. FOR AN ELK!

Hunters (and anti-hunters) cried for state intervention for nearly a decade before last year, the state finally agreed to do an "elk study" on their presence/absence, economics and ecology of reintroduction, etc. And like I said, I bet it won't be a cheap study. But it's obviously the right thing to do.

T. Brook Smith said...


Doc. Dude. Gators are a bonus.

Everyone I grew up with water skis in reservoirs where they are common. If you get enough of them you can have a gator season, and if you ever have a particularly irritating pet or neighbor....ahem. Never mind.

R.M.? You're gator obsessed, you know this, yes?

Kirk Mantay said...

TBS, well, the gators are a symptom of the obsession. I'm obsessed/entertained by those in the conservation field (primarily, trained scientists) who cannot get out of the way of their own fear of protocols, bureacracy, and fear of actually having to work to actually find out if the establishment (sometimes, their employer) is actually WRONG about an issue in conservation. least 25% of folks employed in conservation, likely 75% of those employed in the field over age 50, and approaching 100% of those who work for government agencies.

Just go with the flow, no need to rock the boat!

That's my obsession...THOSE people.

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