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Iguana removal program reinstated

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Sep 23, 2020

news@breezenewspapers.com

The city of Sanibel’s green iguana removal program, which was suspended due to budget cuts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, has been reinstated.

The city council passed the motion during its meeting on Aug. 18 after suspending it in March when the pandemic hit, costing the city several revenue streams.

“We didn’t have money coming in from the Causeway, so we had to stop it on a temporary basis until they could determine how the financial challenges were going to play out,” said Holly Milbrandt, acting natural resource director.

The program started in 2007 when reports of invasive lizards became a real problem. It lasted until 2010 when many lizards died following a very cold winter season that saw many lizards falling out of trees.

The program resumed in 2015 when the green iguana population replenished. Milbrandt said in 2019 that approximately 1,000 iguanas were trapped and killed by the city-hired trapper.

“We have a healthy and rapidly expanding population of green iguanas. These animals are omnivores and prefer plants and subtropical flowers and fruit common here,” Milbrandt said.

The city budgeted $40,000 for iguana trapping, a number that ended up lower in FY2020 after the program was suspended for five months, Milbrandt said.

Property owners are encouraged to view guidelines from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on iguana prevention, exclusion, deterrents, habitat modification, and capture.

Among the suggestions is to not feed them, protect valuable plants with cages or screen enclosures, trim overhanging branches to remove the unintentional “bridge” to buildings, install wire barriers, deterrents such as sprinklers, hoses and loud noises, modifying habitat by removing vegetation iguanas like and replacing them with resistant trees.

If you are having problems with green iguanas on your property and would like to authorize the city’s iguana trapper to access your property and locate and lethally remove green iguanas, you can submit a request so the city can do so.

Requests will be forwarded to the Natural Resources Department to prioritize iguana removal efforts. The trapper is not on-island every day and does not respond immediately to each report.

The trapper does follow-up at locations where iguanas have been reported. Demand dictates deployment of the trapper.  

Residents continue to have the option to hire private trappers to remove green iguanas from their property.

“The resources here on the island are limited, so property owners having issues might seek out other help,” said Milbrandt, who added that the biggest reason for the green iguana problem is that people who own them as pets either releases them or they go missing.

“These species become established and we have to spend thousands of dollars trying to get rid of them. The FWC holds exotic pet amnesty programs several times a year for those who can’t care for them anymore,” Milbrandt said. “You can surrender them to authorities and not release them into the wild.”

Suspected sightings of Nile monitor lizards and spiny-tailed iguanas should be reported immediately to the Sanibel Police Department at 472-3111. These reptiles are omnivorous predators, known to feed on food sources such as bird and turtle eggs and may occupy burrows of other species.