The short answer is that the 11-foot alligator that lived in the Trinity River near the Fort Worth Nature Center and was killed by a couple of rogue disc jockeys earlier this month is worth $5,300 because the state’s game wardens say so.
I wanted to know how they arrive at that figure, so I called Mike Cox, a spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife, today. He explained that the agency is “statutorily authorized” to seek restitution for illegal game hunting. Wildlife is considered to belong to all the people of Texas, and so poachers (as these fellows are accused of being) are expected to pay us back. That $5,300 would end up in the pocket of the state agency.
But why exactly $5,300? Do they make that number up out of thin air? If an alligator is worth $5,300, what’ll other animals run you?
UPDATE: Turns out the alligator may not have been worth $5,300 after all. See details below.
Cox, who works out of Austin, didn’t know. He’s promised to find out for me. What he could say for certain is that investigators in Fort Worth determined how much the restitution should be.
While I’m waiting for more from Mr. Cox, I poked around the Texas Administrative Code online to look for answer. I found that each illegally killed animal is scored on the basis of eight criteria to determine the “recovery value.” The criteria are: recreation (how much people like to seek out the animal, for fun), aesthetic (the species’ beauty), educational value, scarcity, environmental tolerance, economic value. A score of between 0 and 3 is noted for each of these. Those scores are then weighted according to a species’ abundance-to-public-interest ratio.
Then the overall score is applied to a fee schedule. Texas Parks and Wildlife has the ability to reevaluate these fees every year, and so I contacted them again and asked for their Tables on Computed Value of Selected Species. That was a few hours ago, and I’m waiting.
For now, I’ve only got an old breakdown of proposed restitution values, from 2004, online:
|Desert Bighorn Sheep||$4,780.50|
|Bald Eagle (T)||$11,907.50|
So what have I learned for all my trouble today? That an alligator is worth more than a desert bighorn sheep, but less than a bald eagle. Well, maybe. Guess that doesn’t factor in inflation.
UPDATE: Just spoke with Brandi Reeder, assistant chief of fisheries enforcement with Texas Parks and Wildlife. She says that the criteria I list above are indeed correct, though it’s important to know that with alligators size makes a big difference in how much restitution you’ve got to pay.
Because any gator 11 feet or bigger is considered a rare specimen, there’s a huge jump in value from a 10-foot alligator to an 11-foot alligator. You’ll note it below, on the alligator restitution value chart that Reeder provided me. (The units it references are feet.)
See that once you pass 10 feet, the cost jumps dramatically from $1,281.50 to $5,220.50. So these guys in Fort Worth are really going to be wishing they’d been dealing with an animal that was a foot shorter.
Also, Reeder said the restitution should not be $5,300 for an 11-foot alligator. It should, indeed, be only $5,220.50. Either the retribution was misreported in the news articles about the fines, or that animal was actually 13 feet long.