Iberville Parish leaders are crying foul over the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries decision allowing hunters handling residential nuisance calls for the state to charge landowners up to $50 any time they remove an alligator off private property.
Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso is even more perturbed by a hunter who demanded a resident pay him cash to wrangle a 6-foot alligator that wandered onto the resident's property last month in Plaquemine.
"It is very hard to believe that this protocol is allowable in our great state," Ourso said in a blistering letter to Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet. "For a trapper to demand 'cash payment' for a public service is totally unacceptable. The wildlife belongs to the state of Louisiana and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is the responsible party for managing nuisance wildlife."
Jeb Linscombe, alligator biologist manager for the state's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said Monday the state now allows alligator hunters to charge landowners $50 for nuisance calls because the animal's hide isn't as profitable as it was in the past.
"The market is very suppressed right now because of the overstock of skin," Linscombe said. "The prices are really bad so trappers are having a hard time getting compensated. This isn't a permanent fix to the problem. It's just a temporary, stop-gap fix to the market being problematic right now."
In the past, the state gave alligator hunters the authority to charge residents up to $30 for gators that were under 6-feet long or if landowners insisted on having a gator considered by the state to be a non-threat to public removed from their property. Alligators that would fall in latter category are those under 3-feet long.
Linscombe was quick to point out the policy change which went into effect May 1, does not indicate hunters must accept only cash.
"I don't know why he did that. That's his prerogative, but it's not in our policy," Linscombe said.
Ourso said Monday the state has yet to respond to him regarding his Sept. 19 letter.
Ourso's letter references a July 18 incident in which a Plaquemine resident called 9-1-1 after finding a 6½-foot alligator stuck in a chain-link fence.
Mark Migliacio, who oversees the parish's animal control department, said he initially contacted Wildlife and Fisheries to handle the situation because the gator was too large for the parish to wrangle with its equipment.
When Migliacio reached out to the hunter recommended by the state, he was told it would take $50 in cash from the resident before the hunter would show up and take care of the problem.
"I told him to bill the parish," Migliacio said. "He said he wasn't coming until he got his $50."
Since the state adopted the new policy, Migliacio said, hunters occasionally billed residents to remove nuisance gators. But none ever demanded cash, he added.
Migliacio ended up calling "Swamp People" reality-TV star Troy Landry, who came out and removed the alligator from the landowner's property.
"This is a situation where the state agency should have contacted the local officials to discuss the policy on nuisance alligators prior to its implementation," Ourso wrote to Montoucet about the July 18 incident. "Certainly a more reasonable solution could have been reached rather than to demand our citizens pay a $50 cash ransom for removal of the nuisance alligator."
Ourso asked that the agency re-think the policy.
Linscombe doesn't understand why the policy change has sparked so much controversy in Iberville Parish.
"If you want a squirrel or raccoon removed from your attic, you have to pay somebody to do it. It's really not any different," he said. "It is what it is."
The amended policy does say the state reserves the right to rescinded it at any time. Linscombe says if the state can find other means to pay alligator hunters, or if current market conditions change, they'll likely do away with the fee.