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Evacuating as Irma nears

As I often note: Florida is “The Sunshine State,” except during hurricane season, when it becomes “The Plywood State.”

As I write this, it seems certain that Irma will be smacking Florida, likely impacting the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, where we’re living “the dream” adjacent to the water in a mandatory evacuation zone. So after sending in this blog we’re planning to board up and get out of here even before ordered to do so to, hopefully, avoid monster traffic jams.

But I love Florida living because where else can you engage in such family fun activities as these? A laugh is always good for the soul while running from a hurricane:

Get that python! In no other state can you take the kids on a wild Burmese python hunt and get T-shirts and raffle prizes for capturing one. Seems these colossal constrictors are showing up in lots of places. Can’t wait to see the news coverage when one is captured on the badminton court at Mar-a-Lago!

I’m not making this up. We have a “Python Pickup Program” here. Apparently the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission really digs this program. The problem: The pythons are likely a lot less enthusiastic.

Come on now, can’t you grasp the enjoyment of exuberant amateurs plowing through the tall grass hoping to grab a slithering killing machine by the head? Talk about family bonding. Note: When you find one, the FWC recommends: “Working at ground level helps prevent the python from wrapping around your face, neck or chest, all of which you don’t want. You have to be quick to do this. Try not to hesitate.” Really?

Has this been successful? Well, the box score is reported to be: dead pythons about 200; snakes, flashing the hunters a middle digit, between 15,000 and 150,000. No one knows for sure, but so far at least no hunters have been eaten.

To top it off, and to avoid criticism from the python lobby, the FWC recommends “humanely” finishing off these killers. I suppose that assumes the snake doesn’t finish off a hunter first. In that case, at the hunter’s memorial service they can always say he was eaten by a python, but he looked really cool in his T-shirt!

Kill the lion — a lionfish that is! If hunting snakes isn’t a big draw, we Floridians can always take on the poisonous lionfish. Actually, this is another program to try to reduce the impact of a non-indigenous fish that eats native fish, including species very important to keeping healthy reefs.

But, we’re not talking about hunting Nemo or your average creature with fins. And, surprise, the lionfish don’t appear to favor the FWC-sanctioned contest to hunt them down. The contest, which began in late May, will officially end next Monday.

That means we’d better hurry if we want to have fun nailing a trophy lionfish that has a funny way of protesting the contest when it sticks an angler with its long, sharp venomous spines. Yes, an amateur handling them may not be such a good idea.

Lionfish are native to waters off Africa and Asia. The FWC says the invasion likely began with a handful of released fish. They have few natural enemies in our waters; they multiply like crazy, so they’re now found all around Florida.

Still, at least we can boast of better success here. Unlike the poor scorecard for the python hunt, and even if we’d prefer the family not get stuck chasing lionfish, the fearless fin-atics that are participating in the lionfish contest are projected to rack up some 13,000 of the prickly, venomous fish.

That’s the combined effort of both commercial and recreational anglers. And incidentally, there is a bonus since lionfish do render an excellent-tasting fillet. Python meat not so much!

Ah, that’s the good life in Florida. And now, my friends and readers, hopefully our house and boat will be in one piece when we come back next week, but meanwhile, wish us luck and we’re outta here!

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