Every year, the St. Johns River Water Management District and the Florida Forest Service escort wounded veterans on an alligator egg collection to raise money for Operation Outdoor Freedom. The event helps the veterans by offering recreation and fun but also assists with stabilizing wild alligator numbers.
Operation Outdoor Freedom provides wounded veterans with organized outdoor activities that they enjoy at no cost. Designated state and agricultural lands throughout Florida offer these veterans unique opportunities for recreation and rehabilitation. Since its inception in 2009, Operation Outdoor Freedom has hosted more than 500 events and served approximately 4,100 wounded veterans.
Participants have either been awarded the Purple Heart or have a service-related disability rating of 30 percent or greater. The activities offered through Operation Outdoor Freedom give veterans the chance to rub shoulders and share in a few hours of camaraderie.
Alligator egg harvesting is regulated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). FWC biologists have calculated the number of nests that can be harvested while sustaining healthy populations of alligators and the animals that consider alligator eggs and babies as prey.
“There’s a natural surplus of eggs out here. We conduct a lot of management activities that create habitat conditions to ensure wildlife thrives,” says St. Johns River Water Management District Land Management Program Manager Jeremy Olson, who works closely with Florida Forest Service on orchestrating the egg harvest. “With these events, it’s not so much about collecting the eggs as it is to see people who’ve had similar experiences getting together. The camaraderie is an important aspect of what we do.”