Last September, I wrote a column about Florida's insistance on a black bear hunt despite overwhelming public oposition. You can read it here.
I wrote this column in response, but the paper chose not to run it and I decided to sit it.
But after watching the antics of a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission that has been completely gutted under the head of the House of Slytherin, Gov. Rick Scott, I decided it was time.
Looking at the metrics, the original column was generally well-received, except for one of the people briefly mentioned in it — Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Aliese Priddy.
She took exception to this paragraph: "(Rick) Scott’s FWC selections have come under fire recently from environmental groups, because they are heavily weighted toward developers and ranchers like current commissioner and Scott appointee Aliesa Priddy. Priddy owns the JB Ranch in Immokalee and has been a leading proponent of removing the Florida panther from the federal Endangered Species List to be able to harass or kill the big cats, claiming they are culling 10 percent of her herd annually."
The purpose of that paragraph was to point out the onslaught that has befallen our charismatic megafauna like black bears and panthers in Florida; Scott's version of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is stacked with a commercial rancher, a construction engineer, two developers, the PR representatives for an enormous agribusiness and electric consortium and an attorney. Although they may like to hunt and fish, I wouldn't say any of them really have any formal background in fisheries or wildlife resource management. Coming from the same Governor who wants to allow grazing and timber harvest in state parks, that's hardly surprising.
Commissioner Priddy reached out to me via email to express her displeasure, asking that I correct several points in my column.
I let her know that I was keenly interested in working with her on a column focusing on her progressive views on managing Florida's largest cat — and provided her with 20 questions relating to the management of panthers and black bears.
Although she showed interest, Priddy also wanted the ability to sign off on the content, with strings attached to any sort of interview. In journalistic circles, that's something known as prior restraint — something I expressed to her that I am not comfortable with.
I have not heard from her since. She was aware of my deadline.
I do, however, want to clarify the points she took issue with.
First, Priddy disagreed with being referred to as a leading proponent of delisting the Florida panther so that it could be included in an incidental take permit that would allow her and others to harass — or possibly even cause the death of — endangered Florida panthers.
Although Commissioner Priddy may not be in favor of delisting the big cats, the record is pretty clear that as a commercial livestock rancher and one of seven appointed officials responsible for crafting the direction of fishery and wildlife management in the state of Florida, she is a leading proponent of fundamentally changing the way we manage this iconic endangered species in Florida. She would like to be able to mitigate losses to her (and other's) commercial interests through relaxed regulations and the ability to harass — or possibly even cause the death of — endangered Florida panthers.
In her email, Priddy took umbrage to the statement that 10 percent of her herd was killed by panthers:
"Over a 3 (sic) year period 14 calves on my ranch were confirmed to have been killed by panthers. No, that is not 10%, but it is about 5%. And that's not a claim, that's a fact. It is almost impossible to find a panther kill due to their caching behavior. I know my loss is more than 5% because of the numbers I keep on my cattle. Is it 10%? No way to know exactly, but probably at least 10-15% annually. Whatever I may have claimed publicly I can't remember for sure, but most likely I would have said more than 10%."
My claim of 10-percent attrition was incorrect. Commissioner Priddy believes it is more than 10 percent.
Lastly, she took issue with the term "culling," writing "To ranchers, culling is to separate out inferior animals and sell them. Panthers do not discriminate in the quality of calves they kill."
To this writer, culling is the process of separating the weak, infirm and young from the herd.
Survival of the fittest.
Which is precisely how big cats hunt.
All of that being said, it is clear: One of the seven appointed officials responsible for managing our wild resources in Florida is in favor of fundamentally changing the way in which Florida's panther population and its’ habitat are managed.
She favors an approach which puts people before panthers.
In her parallel universe, the Florida panther shouldn't be allowed to rebound and redistribute throughout its traditional range; panthers should be managed in a way that mitigates losses of livestock (in which she has a substantial commercial interest), development (she does own 9,000 acres in Collier County) and pets.
I'm not sure how many pets are taken each year by Florida panthers, but the number must literally be several.
The problem with panthers and bears is not that they exist where humans live. The problem is that humans live where panthers and bears exist.
And that's not their fault.