News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


People never warm up to alligators in the river

Before the alligators, people getting into the Tennessee River and its tributaries worried a little about encountering a water moccasin, but not beavers.

They are pesky little devils but don't bother the average person. Besides, beavers are kind of cute with those paddle tails and buckteeth.

More importantly, there are never news stories about beavers eating people.

But alligators are the opposite. They are not cute. Their teeth are not adapted for gnawing down trees and their mission isn't to build dams.

That's why local people continue to resent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for dumping 55 of the reptiles in the river in 1979.

The popular theory was that the alligators would control the beaver population, and they wouldn't build as many dams and cause flooding.

A second reason, however, was more ominous: To increase the population of the endangered species.

A year later, the project turned sour when then-U.S. Rep. Ronnie Flippo demanded that the wildlife service get the alligators out.

Having caught only three, the government's theory was that the alligators simply couldn't tolerate North Alabama winters, and they died.

A year later, O.W. Chandler of Tanner was to put that theory to rest. While frog gigging one night in a gravel pit near Limestone Creek, an alligator surfaced and attacked his boat. Mr. Chandler shot and killed the 6-foot-3-inch alligator.

Other sightings, including the carcass of a 10-footer in 1993, give credence to a weekend incident near Decatur's Dry Branch Creek.

Police told the George Allen family, who live near the creek in Northwest Decatur, that someone reported an alligator leaving his yard Saturday. Understandably, that caused a stir in the community.

Capt. Johnny Johnson of the state Wildlife and Fresh Water Fisheries said he gets about 25 sightings a year and the number of calls seems to be increasing.

That's probably because the experiment is working, and that's too bad.

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