Officials in Louisiana say California’s ban on alligators—at least products made from the big-jawed beasts—is harming business. They insist anti-gator laws will hurt an important state industry. They also claim the laws will result in damage to the state’s wetlands.
American alligators can grow up to 15 feet long. Some weigh nearly 1,000 pounds. These behemoths dwell in swamps and marshy areas from North Carolina to Texas. Ferocious predators, they can move and lunge quickly, often killing and eating smaller prey with a single bite.
God made gators with beady eyes, broad jaws, and really big, sharp teeth! That makes them seem scary. But God also gave alligators an important role. The scaly brutes actually benefit southern wetlands. They dig holes in swampy ground. These “alligator holes” provide homes for creatures such as fish, snakes, and turtles. The biodiversity keeps swampy habitats in balance.
Since the early 1800s, people have made fancy boots, shoes, and saddles from durable alligator skins. They also used alligator oil to grease early engines. Because of unchecked hunting, the gator population dropped. Some people worried about what would happen to the swamps and marshes without alligators.
In the 1960s, efforts to save alligators began. Hunting limits went into place, and alligator numbers increased. Today, the population is large enough for reasonable harvesting. Folks in the Bayou State now harvest about 300,000 gators per year. This keeps the population under control while providing income for residents. Gator skins are sold for clothing and furnishings, and restaurants serve gator as a lean, white meat option alongside chicken and fish.
Some conservationists, especially in California, object to the controlled hunting. According to The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, California banned alligator skins and meats in the 1970s. But the state kept granting exceptions, and sales continued. This year, however, California says it will no longer allow the sale of any alligator products in the state.
Louisiana is filing a lawsuit over the ban. The suit claims that Louisiana’s gator sales have revived the alligator population—not harmed it. Furthermore, they say alligator businesses pay private landowners to help protect the state’s wetlands. The suit says loss of income from California could force landowners “to greatly reduce or cease their erosion control efforts.”
California’s huge economy often means that its product standards impact other states. Louisiana claims the ban harms its business. Already, the price of alligator hides is dropping. That’s forcing gator farmers to stop spending. If other states follow California’s lead, gators and wetlands could really suffer.