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Why Do Journalists Love Reporting On The Everglades?


Burmese pythons are wreaking havoc in Florida's Everglades. These mammoth snakes wipe out large numbers of raccoons and other wildlife. And while invasive species are a serious environmental issue, that's not the only reason that we keep coming back to this story again and again. Kate Stein from member station WLRN in Miami has more.

KATE STEIN, BYLINE: This is one of those only-in-South-Florida type of stories. A state agency pays per foot of python caught and killed. A thousand people apply for 25 spots. Then there's a media day where journalists go out with the python hunters.

Hi. How are you doing?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Good. How are you?

STEIN: Doing good.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: We came to join the fun.

STEIN: My hunter is Donna Kalil. And she's more than happy to host me, a CNN reporter, a freelance photographer and a local TV news crew.

DONNA KALIL: You might not be able to go into where we're going. Hopefully - I'll try to find a clear spot for you. But...

STEIN: Donna and I go back a ways. We met in a python hunting training class where she helped me bag my first - and so far only - python. She took me out during last year's Python Challenge hunt, and today she lends me a pair of boots for protection from some of the Everglades' other snakes. There's no hunter I'd trust more, especially since Donna's got a gun tucked in her waistband, a knife on her belt and earrings made from python bone.

KALIL: They're supposed to be good luck charms.


KALIL: Actually, every time I've worn these, I've come across rattlesnakes and not pythons, so be careful...

STEIN: We journalists like to consider ourselves completely portable. But as we follow Donna into a hardwood hammock, a thick grove of hackberry and gumbo limbo trees, it becomes clear portability is relative when you're crawling on your hands and knees through the Everglades.

So this is poison ivy?

KALIL: Three leaves.

STEIN: But, hey, we really want to be there when Donna catches a python - like, really - which raises a few ethical considerations. If she's in the bushes driving a snake toward us...

KALIL: You guys hear that?


KALIL: (Unintelligible) Come on. I need help in here.

STEIN: ....And also why are we out here getting sunburned and mosquito-bitten - for a quick hit that will go viral on social media; to talk about a larger issue, how humans have made the Everglades more vulnerable to problems like invasive species? Or is it so we can go home and tell our friends and family - hey, guess who got paid to hunt giant snakes today? I tried to ask my fellow reporters.

Can I interview you quickly?


STEIN: But they declined to comment. For me, it's a mix, an opportunity that I could only get through this job, for sure, but also a chance to highlight major threats to the Everglades, an ecosystem that I, like Donna, love.

KALIL: They're invasives. And they're eating up all the little wild animals that we - that don't have much land to live in anyway. You know, we've done the most damage.

STEIN: Donna didn't catch a python on media day, but she's bagged six since then. Overall, the hunters have killed more than a hundred of the snakes, and you know we journalists will keep you updated on the final tally. The hunt ends June 1.

For NPR News, I'm Kate Stein in Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.