Sarasota County commissioners open county property to possible future hunting

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. -- County commissioner Paul Caragiulo wants to make one thing very clear:

"Hunting is not allowed in Sarasota County on county lands. Period."

Even though commissioners amended an ordinance formerly outlawing hunting on county land, you can't just grab a gun and head to carlton preserve.

"Nothing was done with the stroke of a pen, nothing has changed," says Caragiulo. "This is the beginning of a potential process."

Monday's meeting played out exactly as expected. Hunters like gunshop owner Fran Misantone showed up excited to hunt land filled with untouched wildlife.

"We're in favor of opening up lands that parents and grandparents can take their children or grandchildren out to without having to travel long distances and pay big fees," says Misantone.

Environmentalists, like Audubon Society's Wade Matthews, worried public areas like Walton Ranch, purchased for conservation in 2010, could lose value and appeal.

"They were acquired to protect the habitat and to protect the wildlife that was on the habitat. Obviously hunting is a consumptive use," says Matthews. "Deer will come up very close to you now, but not after they've been hunted for a while."

Misantone looks to Manatee County's Duette Preserve as the example of how hunters and hikers can live in harmony.

Counterpart Matthews thinks future seasons will be too restrictive for non-hunters.

"They could either rule that other people couldn't come onto the land, or the other people wouldn't want to come on," he says

Caragiulo hopes the public will eventually appreciate the county's consideration.

"This is really something for residents," he says. "There's some mention of tourism here and there, but my focus is really to provide something for our county residents and county taxpayers."

The county is still waiting for a consulting firm to finish a master plan of all county-owned properties, at which point they may be able to decide which parcels they feel comfortable to allow hunting on.

Caragiulo estimate that process won't wrap up for another 8-10 months. Until then, no hunting.