Louisiana authorities propose a drastic reduction in the amount of alligators once endangered that can be found in the wild. They will allow farmers to return to the marshes where they laid their eggs.

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission published a Wednesday notice stating that alligator nest surveys had increased significantly over the past 50 years from a low of 10,000 in the 1970s and 80s to well above 60,000 in recent years. “This has resulted in a larger population which can be sustained at a lower rate of farm returns.”

The commission will accept comments on a proposal to reduce the rate from 10% to 5.5% until January 4.

Farmers are permitted to collect eggs from nests, provided that they return the same percentage as young adults large enough to fend off predators other than humans and larger alligators.

Luxury leather is made from alligator hides for watches, boots, and purses. The meat can be used in sausages. Companies also sell roasts and steaks, ribs as well as nuggets and jerky. Forelegs can be marketed as “alligator wings.”

According to Jeb Linscombe of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, approximately 1.2 million were returned since 1986 when alligator farming was approved.

Based on the fact that 83% of all gators die before reaching 4 feet (1.2m) in length, 17% was established as the first return percentage. Wild-hatched gators of this size are approximately 4 years old. However, farmed alligators can grow faster due to the availability of food.

About one-third all nests are destroyed by raccoons, other prey animals and floods. The hatchlings, which are black and yellow, measure approximately 8.5 inches (22 cm) in length and weigh just 2 ounces (57g). They are easy prey for larger gators, wading bird and fish, even though their mothers stay with them for approximately a year.

The uncontrolled hunting almost drove American alligators extinct before Louisiana banned all hunting in 1962. Alligator mississippiensis, one of the first species to be federally listed as endangered was done after Congress passed the precursor Act on Endangered Species Act.

Linscombe stated that the primary reason species have recovered was the elimination of the black markets.

Louisiana opened a statewide hunting season in 1981 after it allowed small, tightly controlled hunts in 1972, 1973 and 1973. The U.S. opened a statewide season in 1981, two years later. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the species had recouped most of its range and de-listed it completely in 1987.