COLUMBIA, S.C. – A bill making it easier for property owners to kill alligators on their land and setting up a special hunting season for the animals received key approval Thursday in the House.
Allowing people to kill gators is necessary in South Carolina because they are threatening people and pets, said Sen. Larry Grooms, the bill's chief sponsor.
The Department of Natural Resources estimates there are about 100,000 alligators in the state. The agency has not figured out how many gators it would allow to be killed.
"I don't know what the appropriate level is. I just don't want alligators encroaching on the human habitat," Grooms said.
Alligator attacks on humans are rare, with only about a dozen — none of them fatal — reported during the past 30 years, Natural Resources spokesman Brett Witt said.
In September, a 12-foot alligator bit off the arm of a Summerville man snorkeling in Lake Moultrie not far from Grooms' house. Wildlife officers killed the alligator and recovered the man's arm.
Grooms said alligators are more of a problem for dogs. The Bonneau Republican said people living in ponds near the Cooper River have reported alligators attacking and killing their pets.
Even when those property owners get permission to kill or removed the alligators, others move in immediately, Grooms said.
The legislation, which now heads back to the Senate, lets private property owners kill alligators using larger-caliber rifles and handguns between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15. They can't use shotguns.
Anyone killing an alligator won't have to tie up the animal first, but will have to have a hook or other instrument to retrieve the carcass.
The bill still allows people to get permits to kill alligators that are an immediate threat and also provides for a $100 fine and up to 30 days in jail for anyone feeding a gator.
The legislation allows wildlife officials to set up a hunting season for alligators. Hunters will pay a $10 application fee for a random drawing to receive a $100 alligator hunting permit. The gators will have to be secured before they are killed.