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Battle brewing over hunting proposal at Cypress Creek Preserve

LAND O'LAKES — If you use the sign-in sheets at Cypress Creek Preserve as an unscientific poll, the majority don't want hunting allowed there.

"No hunting please!" wrote Brad and Bob, who visited on Dec. 4 to walk.

The same went for someone who identified themselves by the initials AD: "Absurd to consider this as a venue for hunting — teenagers everywhere."

Despite the sentiment, the Southwest Florida Water Management District staff is recommending that hunting be allowed for six weekends per year in the northern tract of the 7,400-acre preserve that sits in south central Pasco County. Weapons would be limited to bows and arrows.

The proposal is the result of a yearlong review of hunting policies for lands owned by the state agency, commonly referred to as Swiftmud.

The recommendation came after a committee of stakeholders and staff, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, considered a variety of factors including budget impacts, adjacent land uses, security challenges and regional demand.

The 13-member governing board has the final say and is expected to decide Tuesday at a meeting in Haines City. Additional properties for consideration include Green Swamp East (nonwildlife management area), Green Swamp West (nonwildlife management area) and Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve. Another public meeting is set for Jan. 5 in Lecanto to hear comments on possible hunting at Lake Panasoffkee (nonwildlife management area), Halpata Tastanaki Preserve, Chassahowitzka River and Coastal Swamps and Weeki Wachee Preserve properties.

The proposal to expand hunting to Cypress Creek has drawn strong opposition from runners, bicyclists, birders and equestrians. Even the Pasco County Commission weighed in last week against it and agreed to send an assistant county attorney to the Swiftmud meeting to express its opinion. Tampa Bay Water, which has a well field adjacent to the preserve, is expected to make a recommendation on the proposal at its meeting Monday.

"There's a lot of opposition to hunting on some of this land," said County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, whose district includes the preserve.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said the land is close to schools and recreational areas and is used by a high school cross country team. He also said it's close to Tampa Bay Water facilities.

"I certainly support the district reviewing (expanded hunting) on certain properties," he said. "Cypress Creek is unique because of where it is."

Brad Spacone, who often runs at the preserve, said the property backs up to Eagle Island neighborhood, where he lives. He fears for residents' safety if hunting is approved. Also, he said the area is popular with many runners, bikers and horseback riders.

"There aren't a lot of sidewalks in Land O'Lakes," he said. "It's a place you can go."

The preserve's back entrance on Parkway Boulevard is within eyeshot of Pine View Elementary School. Kids can be heard calling to one another on the playground.

But that doesn't pose a safety issue, said Chuck Echenique, director for the southwest region of the United Waterfowlers of Florida.

"People were saying arrows would be flying over the school," he said. "That's ridiculous." He said an arrow would travel a maximum of about 175 to 200 yards in an open area. But the preserve is wooded so that is highly unlikely. The possibility of an arrow traveling more than 15 yards past its intended target is remote, he said. Arrows would not fly over the school or into residential areas, he said, because hunters stand taller than their game and don't hunt at the property's perimeter.

Echenique said prey at the preserve would likely include white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and hogs.

"The people who oppose it are against it simply because they don't like it," he said. "This playbook is old and it's tired."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4604.

If you go

The Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board will take up the proposal to expand hunting on agency-owned lands at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Lake Eva Banquet Hall, 799 Johns Ave., Haines City. Visit www.watermatters.org/hunting for information.

Battle brewing over hunting proposal at Cypress Creek Preserve 12/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 17, 2011 1:52pm]
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