By KEITH MORELLI | The Tampa Tribune
Published: March 22, 2010
TAMPA - Flatwoods Park, a popular trail-biking spot off Morris Bridge Road in north Hillsborough County, will close early three nights this week for wild-hog hunting.
Twenty-two hunters with dogs and handguns have permits to take part in the hunts, which will begin one hour after dark Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and last until 2 a.m.
The property is owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and is managed by the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. The park is part of the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve, which stretches some 5,400 acres between U.S. 301 and Interstate 75, north of Fowler Avenue.
The district schedules hog hunts on its wilderness preserves "when the damage they cause is at unacceptable levels, and damage is occurring more frequently and with increasing severity," according to a district news release.
The hunt, which is limited to hunters with dogs, includes property at the Washburn Equestrian Area, across Morris Bridge Road from the park.
It is one of a series of hog hunts allowed by the district to reduce the damage caused to the natural habitat. The preserve also hosted a hog hunt in January.
Parks department spokesman John Brill said damage to the property was the only concern and that there were no reported run-ins between park visitors and hogs.
"It's a very popular place," he said. "I haven't heard of any attacks or anything out there."
The park, normally open from sunrise until sunset, will be closed until 2:30 p.m. today so hunters can go in and scout the property. It will close at 6 p.m. the next three days.
Only permitted hunters will be allowed on the property during the hunts, and all 22 permits, which cost $50 each, have been sold.
District land resources officials said wild hogs are not native to Florida and are considered an invasive exotic species believed to have been introduced by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in the 16th century. Wild hogs can weigh more than 150 pounds and travel in herds of several females and their offspring. They are blamed for damaging wetlands by rooting up the soil and preying on native species.
For information on the hunts, go to www.watermatters.org or call the land resources department in Brooksville at 1-800-423-1476 or (352) 796-7211, ext. 4461 or 4457.
Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760