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Snakes on a Glade: Senator Nelson Presses for Everglades Serpent Hunt

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has an explosive idea for dealing with the problem of large snakes in the Everglades after one killed a child this month: shoot them.

Nelson, who has stuck to his guns about the need to rid the Everglades of Burmese python after one suffocated a 2-year-old girl in her bedroom, took it a step further Tuesday. Nelson said that the bill he introduced that would ban the importing of the snakes should be accompanied by a hunt on the ones that are already here.

“When we visited the Everglades recently we heard a variety of ideas for capturing or killing many of the estimated 100,000-or-more pythons now roaming the ‘Glades,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “One idea seems particularly promising. Some, including Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, appear open to an organized hunt.”

But Floridians should only turn their fire on the snakes that are indigenous to Southeast Asia, not all wildlife, Nelson said.

“This is not intended in any way to open our national parks to hunting per se,” he wrote. “Steps must be taken to protect the Florida Panther and other wildlife. They (pythons) are threatening endangered wildlife there - and, Lord forbid, a visitor in the Everglades ever encounters one.”

Finding opposition to the idea on Tuesday was a slippery proposition.

Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino wrote over the weekend that in the interest of democracy, someone should oppose Nelson and speak up for the snakes, though he lamented the presence of a lobby to do so.

“A snake NRA lobbyist would have pointed out that Nelson was overreacting to the death of a 2-year-old Sumter County girl who was strangled in her bed by a pet Burmese python that had been insufficiently confined in a glass case by the owner, the live-in boyfriend of the girl's,” Cerabino wrote in a weekend column. “And that lobbyist would stress that snakes don't kill people; people who take poor care of snakes kill people.”

Gov. Charlie Crist, who is busy these days running to join Nelson in the U.S. Senate, is somewhere in the middle. Spokesman Sterling Ivey told the News Service of Florida Tuesday afternoon that Crist agrees that the pythons are problematic, though he likely won’t be picking up a gun himself.

“The governor toured the Everglades a couple of weeks ago,” Ivey said. “That’s when they came out and said they were going to do a bounty on the pythons and the governor said he supported those efforts. I don’t think there’s been anything more formal moving forward with a hunt so to speak.”

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