Florida to begin issuing permits Friday for python hunt

MIAMI — By next week, the first of a select squad of python hunters will be ready to roll.

Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday approved plans to begin capturing and killing Burmese pythons that have invaded the Everglades.

The governor called the program, similar to one used for ''nuisance'' alligators on state lands, important for protecting wildlife and the public.

Scientists believe the snakes, likely offspring of pets released by owners or freed from cages or shops by Hurricane Andrew, primarily pose a threat to native species.

It won't be an open season on constrictors. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will issue a limited number of permits starting Friday. The program, run with the South Florida Water Management District, will focus on state marshes south of Lake Okeechobee.

Trappers, whom the FWC said would be confined to volunteer experts, will euthanize the snakes. They also will provide scientific data from weight to gut contents. Trappers would be able to sell the meat and skin, which has commercial value for shoes and other items.

FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said the program would run through the winter, then be reviewed to see if it was effective.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson also has called for a controlled hunt in Everglades National Park -- one run by ''deputized'' agents and volunteers. The National Park Service is working on its own plan.

Some scientists doubt hunting can control an estimated 100,000-plus snakes that move freely in the wilds of South Florida.

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