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Monday, May 23, 2022

Commission gives hunters more land

The general public can now hunt in certain conservation areas under a decision made by the Alachua County commissioners in a meeting Tuesday.

Public hunting is now allowed by appointment in areas including Mill Creek Preserve, Balu Forest and Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve. The ruling was made on the suggestions of the Alachua County Forever Hunting Business Plan, a document two years in the making.

The head of the project, Ramesh Buch, said the decision was made in hopes of opening up new forms of recreation in Alachua County. It will bring in no additional revenue for the county.

Hunting in these areas will be free of any additional fees, other than those posed originally by the state of Florida.

“We don’t charge other recreation users for our land, so why charge hunters?” Buch said.

In remote or difficult-to-access areas, the county has entered into private agreements with individual hunters in exchange for caretaking.

“Each one saves us $10,000 a year, easily,” Buch said. “It was so successful that we’ve replicated that agreement eight times now. It was the start of us having hunting on our property.”

Buch went on to say hunters have been asking to be involved in this agreement since its inception in 2004. That’s partly the reason they began to look into allowing general public hunting.

“It suits our need to have caretakers at no cost to us, and they take good care of the land,” Buch said. “They send us monthly reports, so we don’t have to get out there every week, and hunters by and large are pretty good stewards. They’re invested in having a good experience.”

So far, reactions to the opening of the lands have been about 90 percent positive, Buch said.

But some are worried about the potential consequences to local wildlife.

UF assistant professor of wildlife management Bill Giuliano attended the public meeting Tuesday night and said he believes enough regulation is in place to protect the population from overhunting.

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“The county will use it as a tool to better manage those species and the habitats and parks they live in,” Giuliano said. “And in other cases, it will provide recreational opportunities for folks, which I think — as planned — is not going to cause any detriment to those populations.”

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