Feds may open Banks Lake to hunting

Terry Richards | The Valdosta Daily TimesFishermen take to the water at Banks Lake National Wildlife Reserve in this 2017 file photo. The federal government is considering opening the reserve to hunting.

VALDOSTA — The federal government may open Banks Lake to hunting, and wants public opinion in developing its plans.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge, will take comments from the public through Nov. 1, according to a wildlife service statement.

"Initial considerations of this proposal could include American alligator hunting two weekends during the Georgia alligator hunting season – for a total of six hunting days in accordance with state regulations," according to the statement.

Hunting has been banned at Banks Lake since the wildlife service purchased the property in 1985, said Lanier County Sheriff Nick Norton, though legal fishing is a major activity there.

Any proposed hunting opportunities would be managed in accordance with all state regulations, and the draft hunt plan will also be presented to the public for comment, the statement said.

Norton said he wouldn't oppose an alligator hunt, though he doesn't care for the animal's meat.

"During the spring, when the alligators are mating, we have to work a lot of wrecks where a gator made it onto the road," he said. 

Banks Lake is overpopulated with alligators, the sheriff said.

"(Alligators) caught in other lakes are taken to Banks Lake," he said.

Lanier Animal Control Officer Chuck Jones is against the alligator hunt.

"There's no such thing as a controlled hunt," he said. "Someone always breaks the law."

He said Banks Lake has "just now" developed a sizable gator population. 

"There are not a lot of alligator hunters around here," Jones said, suggesting that some of the hunters might come from other parts of the state or even from outside Georgia. "What do they care about our lake here?"

Alligators are territorial, striking out when they reach a certain age and migrating to new homes, he said. 

"We need to give them a chance to migrate ... they were here first," he said.

Comments can be mailed to 2700 Suwannee Canal Road Folkston, Ga. 31537 or emailed to Okefenokee@fws.gov. Put “Public Input-Banks Lake Hunting” in the subject line of the email.

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.

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