MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference Thursday at an airboat tour company near Miami, where he announced registration had begun for the upcoming 2022 Florida Python Challenge.
Speaking at Everglades Airboat Expeditions on U.S. Route 41, DeSantis said eradicating Burmese pythons from the local ecosystem factors into the state’s environmental conservatorship efforts.
“The Everglades of course is a diverse ecosystem, and we are protecting this ecosystem in a variety of different ways, and one of the things that we have to do is look at the toll that these invasive Burmese pythons have on the Everglades. It’s just unbelievable,” DeSantis said. “... The reality is, they can exact serious destruction on the overall ecosystem and so for us, we view this as a challenge.”
An investment of up to $3 million has been earmarked in the upcoming state budget for python removal efforts, what the governor said will help pay for special cameras and other equipment to aid hunters in locating and dealing with the invasive species. More than 600 people from more than 25 states participated in last year’s challenge, removing 223 pythons from the Everglades, DeSantis said.
“We’re excited about the challenge and we’re going to continue to offer support for, of course, Everglades restoration writ large, but particularly this python mission because it is important and the last thing we want to do is spend a lot of your tax dollars doing a lot of things to improve the infrastructure, the water flow, only to have the pythons ruin everything for future generations,” DeSantis said.
The governor was joined by Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. Officials with the South Florida Water Management District were also there, including Vice Chairman Scott Wagner and Executive Director Drew Bartlett.
“Alligator Ron” Bergeron, SFWMD governing board member, made a plea to all who may step foot in the Everglades to consider taking part in the python removal effort.
“These snakes are destroying the natural food chain, and you can’t have a healthy environment without a healthy food chain, so extremely important to the environment. But it’s all about we, all of you, the hikers, the bikers, the wildlife photographers, the bird watchers, cutters, the fishermen, the conservationists and the environmentalists, all of us along with our professional hunters that the governor has funded for us to put the pressure on this snake that’s destroying the Everglades,” Bergeron said.
The competition runs from Aug. 5-14, with multiple cash prizes available in professional and novice categories. All applicants must take an online training course and a quiz before registering, according to the contest’s website.