LAKEWOOD RANCH -- A compromise is being considered to prevent the random removal of alligators in Lakewood Ranch while protecting homeowners who feel threatened, despite no evidence any human being has ever been attacked in the history of the community.
Supervisors from all five districts were presented Tuesday with an option the Inter-District Authority called a good balance between resident safety and community liability authority over trappers, who are sometimes called by residents to remove the gators.
The Inter-District Authority solution: obtaining a special five-year targeted harvest permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to give Lakewood Ranch greater control to limit trapping and removal of nuisance gators based on certain conditions the community develops.
"This gives the districts greater control because we can set our own guidelines and limitations on the trapping and removal of nuisance gators. We can determine which trappers are allowed," said Lakewood Ranch Operations Department field office manager Tracie Hunt during a presentation Tuesday to Community Development District 1. "There is no change in current policy and it's a potential win-win for everyone because it addresses safety and upholds our motto of good environmental stewardship."
Residents now wishing to report a potential gator threat can call the department or the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program through Florida Fish and Wildlife, which refers them back to the operations department.
"Being a part of the Targeted Harvest Permit Program would give us control to administer the program ourselves and issue a permit, rather than Florida Fish and Wildlife. We can control the conditions and it doesn't change how we operate. The staff is still not getting involved in the removal process," IDA Executive Director Eva Rey said. "But we need consensus from all the districts to move forward and apply for a permit through the SNAP program."
Operations director Ryan Heise added a permit would allow an opportunity to build better relationships with the trappers licensed in Manatee County who cannot be refused access to the property.
"Right now, they can go anywhere in Lakewood Ranch," Heise said.
Many district supervisors expressed interest in seeing how The Villages, Florida's largest master-planned community in Ocala, handles its gator-harvest permit program.
"It's a good idea to see what guidelines they are using to determine if it makes sense for Lakewood Ranch. It's a vehicle for information-sharing. If the complaints go through our system, we can get a little more clarity on what really is the issue that has caused the problem," said Hank Hofeler, vice chairman of County Club West.
Gary Berns, a Summerfield supervisor, said he was willing to consider how The Villages does it.
"I don't want to create a situation where, when the phone rings and somebody says, 'There's a gator,' there is discretion of any kind as to what to do by the person who receives the call," Berns said.
Country Club resident Ron Jarvis, who urged the community last month to adopt a policy so residents understand what specifically is a belligerent alligator (similar to what the neighboring University Park community does), said the compromise sounds like little more than an appeasement.
"The problem isn't the alligators, but a few people who see a gator and want it removed," Jarvis said. "If we go along with that, we've accomplished nothing. Just tell them what we'll do under extreme cases."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.