Iguana millage to increase, bidding process to begin soon

April 8, 2016
By Marcy Shortuse

■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE     iguana  copy

Iguana hunting taxes are going up by 0.102 percent, but iguana numbers are definitely going down.

At an annual meeting of the MTSBU advisory committee for Gasparilla Island’s street lighting and iguana control Friday, April 1, Lee County MSTBU Coordinator Melissa Geissler told the Board they had to raise it to fulfull a past loan in the amount of $10,000.

While two of the committee’s members – Chairman Kay Wagner and Charles Stark – were present, the remaining two, Steve Iovina and John Bourgoin, were not. That meant that no votes could be made on any issues, including the budget. Geissler did say the interfund loan of $10,000 was due, and she presented a sheet with the proposed budget for the members who were there to look at.

When asked why money wasn’t coming in as it has in the past, Geissler explained that many people signed up to pay the tax quarterly, as they would get a discount in doing so. Many didn’t remit payment, though. When Geissler realized the program needed a cash infusion, she put $10,000 in the reserve budget.

“It’s an interest-free loan that we just have to pay back,” she said.

The millage increase is based on 2015 property values.

Geissler said she expected the new contract to come in at around $69,000, but she budgeted for $80,000.

Trapper George Cera gave his annual report to the Board, explaining that between 2013 and 2014 the adult iguana population had crashed to about only 250, and the hatchling population had dropped as well from approximately 1,800 eradicated in the 2012-2013 season to around 600 eradicated in the 2013-2014 season. The juvenile population, however, has risen. Cera eradicated around 650 juveniles in the 2012-2013 season, compared to more than 900 killed in the 2013-2014 season.

Cera explained why the juvenile population is so much higher right now. A few years ago, Lee County made a decision to try iguana eradication with the USDA, but island residents were not happy at all about that. Cera was eventually brought back on the job, but he was gone just long enough for a large amount of females to put their eggs in the ground.

“There were around 2,000 adults eradicated at that time,” he said, “around 2011. When you look at the numbers, you can see how many adults were taken, but we had an explosion of hatchlings then. If they’re more than 12 inches long they’re considered a juvenile. When you look at the following year, the adult population stabilized to around 250 to 300 eradicated.”

“You see the decrease in hatchling numbers, overall. We didn’t get 100 percent of the hatchlings when we first came back, just made a large dent in the population. This year I’m anticipating a spike in adult animals, and for the hatchling and adult numbers to stay stable. After that, all the numbers should stabilize. The whole trick now is focusing on females, females, females.”

Cera said they will start putting their eggs in the ground in May. He asked anyone in the public who might be “rogue” hunting or trapping iguanas to leave the large males alone. Cera’s method for catching lusty, productive females is to leave one large male in an area, and then take them out as they seek out the male.

As a bonus, those males will also eat the smaller iguanas in the area. Cera said he has noticed that at least two of those large males have disappeared recently.

Geissler also told the board that this would be a year to rebid the trapper contract. Because the budget is more than $50,000, the County requires it to be re-evaluated and rebid occasionally.

“I don’t know what bids will come back yet,” she said. “We have to formally bid it out and put it on our web- site; then we have to qualify the vendors and make sure they meet all of our qualifications. This isn’t won by lowest bidder, but by qualifications.”

Geissler said she would make sure every person considered for the position has good references and good experience, and that she would let the committee know who the contract would eventually go to. That decision is expected to be made in early fall.

Wagner and Stark also broached the possibility of the trapper holding a year-round contract, not just for nine months. Currently, Cera doesn’t work except on request from November through February. They agreed that it could be very beneficial to make the contract year-round. Geissler said she would bring it up to Lee County Commissioners to see how they felt about it. After a trapper is chosen, they will have to go about the business, once again, of obtaining permission from individual property owners to eradicate iguanas on their property. Cera said he had just gotten permission from some homeowners who hadn’t agreed to it for years, and that he would hate to lose those contacts.

If you have a lizard problem in your area, you can contact Cera at tarponrepublic@aol.com, or on the Lizard Control Boca Grande Facebook page.