Hunters, Fellsmere forge partnership to protect land, feed needy

FELLSMERE — Fellsmere officials and hunters have forged a partnership that could be a win-win-win – protecting city land, providing hunting and trapping opportunities, and feeding those in need.

While the inaugural Holiday Hog Hunt on the city’s 89-acre property on the northwest corner of Interstate 95 and County Road 512 was a bust, all was not lost, according to Hunters Against Hunger founder Scott Sanders.

“We accomplished a lot of what we were trying to do,” he said, explaining the only mission left undone was providing processed hog meat to the Harvest Food and Outreach Center in Vero Beach. The ground meat would have been given out to those who needed it.

But the event served as a way for the non-profit hunting group to meet and establish relationships with officials from the city, particularly City Manager Jason Nunemaker and Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry.

“We’re not going to give up,” Touchberry said of hog-hunting in the Fellsmere Preserve. The biggest take-away from the Holiday Hog Hunt, he said, was that next year they’ll plan to do a holiday-season-long hunt, beginning before Thanksgiving and ending sometime around Christmas.

Nunemaker said working with Hunters Against Hunger serves three purposes and “we’re happy to be part of the program.”

The wild hogs are an invasive species with few predators and they are notorious for causing property damage from rooting up food.

Nunemaker said the hogs have caused some damage to the FIT Challenge Course – the obstacle and ropes course the city and Florida Institute of Technology installed in the preserve.

They’ve also rooted up the soil along the trails and damaged the foundations to some of the course equipment.

Prior to working with Hunters Against Hunger, the city has allowed – and continues to allow – four state-licensed hunter/trappers to manage the hog population on the site. The Fellsmere Preserve abuts the 20,000-acre Buffer Preserve, where many of the hogs seem to come from, according to Nunemaker.

The majority of the licensed hunters the city currently works with are members of Fellsmere’s or Sebastian’s police departments or have a long history with the city.

“We can’t have a free-for-all,” Nunemaker said.

Along with providing the opportunity for more hunting to those with Hunters Against Hunger, the hogs the group takes – whether at the Fellsmere Preserve or elsewhere – get processed, ground up and packaged, and then taken to Harvest Food and Outreach Center, where certain families receive the meat to augment their normal groceries.

Hunters Against Hunger founder Scott Sanders said he is impressed with the Harvest Food and Outreach Center, which is why his group partnered with the organization.

Sanders said the Fellsmere Holiday Hog Hunt was his first organized event and helped him to lay the groundwork for more.

“We’re trying to get feelers out,” he said, explaining that the more events the group can do, the more people they can help and the more hunters they can attract.

It’s taken Sanders three years to get to this point. It started by recognizing wildlife damaged to citrus growers’ fields – animals eating the fledgling plants. Sanders said the growers performed their own game management but the meat wasn’t always used.

In researching the issue, Sanders found other groups across the country taking advantage of managed game – processing the meat and distributing it to those who need it.

“It’s finally coming to fruition,” Sanders said.

Sanders had hoped his team would have bagged six or eight hogs during the three-day holiday hunt in Fellsmere.

“We were at a bit of a disadvantage,” he said, explaining that the weekend had a “high-intensity moon,” which meant the hogs had better vision. “They were a little spooked.”

Sanders is looking forward to another holiday hunt – but well before next Thanksgiving or Christmas. Instead, he’s planning for Easter and then the Fourth of July.

“There’s no shortage of holidays with food,” Sanders said, adding there also is no shortage of people in need of food.

Anyone interested in learning more about Hunters Against Hunger or has property that is in need of game management is encouraged to contact Scott Sanders by calling (772) 774-9086.

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