There's a growing population of more than a half-million alligators in Texas, and they're spread out over 125 counties. The state needs help to control the surge.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department needs alligator hunters.
For the first time this year, the TPWD has opened up nuisance alligator hunting to anyone.
Once certified, a hunter will be allowed to sell his or her services to homeowners, subdivisions and businesses having alligator problems.
In years past, the state contracted out to a small number of certified alligator hunters to handle these nuisance calls. Each contractor was assigned a region, and TPWD approved the hunts on a case-by-case basis.
However, recent budget cuts have forced the TPWD to change its rules.
With an alligator staff now composed of just a single employee and an increase in nuisance calls, the state and its contractors can no longer keep up.
"Hopefully it works for us, because we could no longer afford to do it,” said Amos Cooper, the state’s only employee in its alligator division. “Financially, it was too much for us to bear."
However, some say they fear opening up nuisance alligator hunting will lead to major problems.
In the past 20 years, Gary Saurage has caught more than a thousand alligators.
He was one of the state’s contracted hunters, and he said he was the only one who doesn’t kill the alligators in the process.
Saurage operates Gator County, an alligator rescue park just outside Beaumont.
Saurage said nuisance alligator hunting is not a lucrative business. He said most alligators he catches on nuisance calls have little value on the market.
Over the years, Saurage has found other ways to pay for the costs of catching alligators, including charging admission to his rescue park and shooting reality television shows.
However, that won’t be a revenue option for most of the newly certified hunters.
This is why Saurage said he worries these new hunters will quickly discover the only way to make money is to go after larger alligators – the ones seven feet and bigger – even if the large ones are not the nuisance.
He said this could cause serious problem for the American Alligator population.
Thirty years ago, the American Alligator was listed as an endangered species. Saurage said he doesn’t want to take the risk of it returning to the list.
"There are coming some hard times for the American Alligator," he said. “We are about to go through something that the alligator program has never gone through before. I am extremely, extremely concerned about these changes."