Keep state's gators off hunting list

This editorial appeared in the Star-News, Wilmington

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is considering allowing alligator hunting in Southeastern North Carolina for the first time since 1973.

We don't know why.

In 2015-16, the commission rejected a proposal to allow hunters to bag one alligator apiece during September. The commission could revisit the idea and create a gator-hunting season in its 2017-18 rulemaking process.

In an interview in Monday's StarNews, Allen Boynton, the commission's wildlife diversity program coordinator, didn't say why the state would change its policy to allow hunting from Brunswick to Carteret counties. But some of what he told us indicates it might not be a good idea.

It's hard to establish a hunting season for the ancient reptiles, Adam Wagner's story said, "because of the scarceness of alligators throughout much of the state and how long they take to produce offspring."

"If we were to allow hunting like we do with some other species," Boynton told the StarNews, "our margin of error is not as great because of the very slow reproduction."

The Wildlife Resources Commission asked the public in April to upload photos of alligators in the state to iNaturalist.org. There's even a smartphone app for that.

The commission launched the "NC Alligators" project to learn more about the distribution of alligators, saying it wanted to understand how alligators respond to habitat changes such as saltwater intrusion and the like, and to reduce "negative interactions between people and alligators."

Boynton said the commission wants to hear what residents say about the alligator populations in their areas and how quickly they reproduce.

Alligators can move incredibly fast when provoked or hunting. But mostly they seem to spend their days imitating logs.

We're not sure how much "thrill of the hunt" there is in sneaking up on a gator dozing in the shallows and shooting it.

We're not opposed to hunting in general, and we are aware that hunters are among the state's most ardent conservationists. But we like our alligators, too.

We are sympathetic to pet owners and adventurous golfers to whom alligators may pose a threat. But gator attacks don't exactly dominate the news.

Unless the commission can lay out solid reasons to allow alligator hunting, we'd shy away from the proposal.