Some people don’t consider Florida to be part of the Deep South proper.
They think of us as The Lower Northeast. As God’s Waiting Room. As A Wholly Owned Subsidiary of The Disney Corporation, with Promotional Consideration Courtesy of Tropicana, Uncle Owen’s Sunny Daze Industrial Postcard Production Complex and The Bail-Jumping Psychotics Local 913.
For these doubters — the ones who don’t believe Florida is down-home, backwoods, “earthy,” “bucolic,” twangy or racist enough to qualify for true Deep South status — I have two words and a number:
Python Challenge 2013.
Last Saturday saw the start of a month-long varmint-huntin’ bonanza down Everglades way. It seems too many pot dealers, goths and go-go dancers bought too many Burmese pythons over the years, only to get tired of them doing pretty much nothing but getting bigger, and “set them free” somewhere along Alligator Alley after dark. Now, the ’Glades are overrun by this poor, misunderstood invasive species that just wants to hug things but, like Of Mice and Men’s Lennie Small, just doesn’t know its own strength.
So the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, in its infinite wisdom, has opened a month-long Burmese python hunting season. Until Feb. 10, any yay-hoo with $25 and an attention span long enough to endure a 30-minute online tutorial can come on down, tromp through one of America’s most unforgiving natural environments, and shoot, stab, drill or hack at anything that might be a Burmese python, but could also be an indigenous species, or a dead hooker’s shoe.
According to USA Today, more than 800 hunters of every skill level and walk of life from 30-odd states (and tropical, python-ridden Canada) are expected to participate. Most of them are honestly just interested in doing their part and killing as many large foreign reptiles as possible. Just in case the opportunity to drive a cattle-bolt into a snake’s head the size of a shovel blade isn’t enticement enough, however, the Commission is also offering bounties: $1,500 for the most Burmese pythons and $1,000 for the longest, in classes for both licensed professional exotic-animal handlers and the general public.
No bounty is offered for young alligators, endangered birds of prey, key deer, saltwater crocodiles, other yay-hoos or snakes of a non-python variety exterminated during the month.
The field undoubtedly includes many experienced, capable hunters, as well as dedicated conservationists who sincerely believe they can help defuse a microcosmic environmental crisis. It also unarguably includes more than its fair share of hopeless, drunk or flat-out imbecilic amateurs, who could end up doing far more damage than good.
Oh, and if all of this sounds more like a pitch for a reality show on A&E or the Outdoor Network or, snicker, The Learning Channel than a real, actual thing that is happening right now, you’re half right. Not one but two production companies have reached out to registered Python Challenge participants with the intent of parlaying their cooperation into cable programming.
If this whole swampy slow-motion spectacle of a train wreck waiting to happen doesn’t qualify us for a real and lasting position among the states of the Deep South — and a good position, too, not like Arkansas’ — then nothing will.
More Scott Harrell: lifeasweblowit.com, twitter.com/harrellscott, @harrellscott