It's an Alien Invasive Hostile Take Over! (part four)
Updated: Feb 16
USFWS, the Lacey Act, and USARK - The Conclusion of Invasive Burmese Pythons
But the law was passed, except for the boa constrictor. They were n off after the economic report they were required to review showing economic impact. Boa constrictors were and are one of the most popular snakes in the industry and the impact was too high.
Opposition - there was a long list who opposed the listing. Everywhere from the American Zoo Association (AZA) to the Small Business Administrative Office. USFWS underestimated the impact that reptiles had on the country or to recognize that the negative economic impact that would happen would have bad repercussions. This didn’t stop them. One example would be breeder and owner of Renick Reptiles, Ben Renick. In 2015, when the listings became official, he halved the number of large pythons he was breeding. The hit to his bottom line was $200,000 - $300,000 per year. That is a lot of money to lose and demonstrates how big the impact of the law was. David and Tracy Barker, biologists and breeders that were (and probably still are) very outspoken. They were sent the Rodda et al study before it was released. Wanting more information, the Barkers contacted the authors with some questions. When they did not receive an answer, they began to think that the manipulation of the data was used to reach a specific conclusion. They stated, “...when biased, self-serving and damaging information is disseminated in a tabloid-like manner by newspapers to the national media, there must be a question of the motives, integrity, and the agenda of the USGS.” They went on to say that the report and circus-like atmosphere would harm not only the reptile industry, but it would also negatively impact the real estate market, brokerages, agents, developers, and local governments. With all the stories in the press and on the 10 o’clock news, people would become afraid and would be less likely to move down to Florida only to live next to some awfully big pool noodles that have a liking for ducks.
Along with the economic impact statement, someone has to petition USFWS to place a species on the list. The petitioner, in this case, was SFWMD, for the Burmese python. USFWS is supposed to look at everything. They did have a Risk Assessment Report; written by Robert Reed and Gordon Rodda, 2009, which was more of the same information in a much larger assessment.
Economic Impact on the Modern Reptile Industry
Anyone who knows me, knows I hate numbers. I’m more into words, so this report was tedious to go through. A very big report. USARK commissioned Georgetown Economic Services with doing a comprehensive economic assessment of the Reptile Industry. The first of it’s kind. Titled The Modern U.S. Reptile Industry, the report was released 2011. The total reptile industry (industry is defined as pet owners, hobbyists, breeders, importers, exporters, wholesalers, pet stores, pet shows, entertainers *You might find Alice Cooper there*, veterinarians, pet food manufacturers, and ancillary pet products) brought in between 1.0 billion and 1.4 billion dollars. 4.7 million households own 13.6 million reptiles. The estimated hit that the Lacey Act would cost was between 76 million - 104 million dollars in the first year. For the first 10 years, it would be 505 million to 1.2 billion dollars. The U.S. dominates the reptile industry globally with 11.3 million dollars exported and 900,000 dollars imported (lower because breeders are choosing to breed captive bred for morphs). A vast majority of businesses are family and small businesses. A lot of money would be lost, businesses to be closed, and people would lose their jobs. Not only would people lose money from not selling, but there’s the added cost for caring for the snakes too.
The National Reptile Breeders Expo is the largest, if not one of the largest reptile shows in the country. It is held in Daytona every summer and this year will mark 30 years.
It placed the onus of responsibility on non-native snakes for the destruction of the Everglades when mercury permeates every animal and plant in the park, and it is recommended that any animal harvested should not be consumed because the mercury levels are that high. The damage to the Everglades occurred when the Army Corps. Of Engineers routed and rerouted water that should have been left alone for agricultural interests (Big Sugar). Less than half of what was once the Everglades exists now that is so badly polluted (from agriculture) that it can’t even meet the minimum requirements for the Clean Air Act and they admit they have a long way to go. The Everglades has more exotic species, plant, and animal than any other place in the United States. A plant can cause more damage than a Burmese python. Or feral hogs and cats. Instead of dealing with the problems at hand, we had some so-called “invasion biologists” claim that these snakes would place every animal, including Big Foot the Loch Ness Monster and the Swamp Monster, in danger.
Again, there was widespread opposition to the bill, with some of the biggest names in the wildlife industry speaking out. A group of scientists sent a letter stating they were concerned about the “persuasive bias” that was found throughout the paper. The
So my buddy Bill filed his bill S.373 and Florida Representative Kendrick Meeks filed HR. 2811 in the House of Representatives. Both bills passed and President Obama not only signed the bill but issued an Executive Order. The rule became official on March 23, 2012...and the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) filed a lawsuit stating that the government’s interpretation on interstate shipment was wrong. The code that they objected to was “any shipment between the continental United States, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any possession of the United States.” USFWS took the law to mean that all listed could not ship, even between states. USARK said that there was nothing there that would make it illegal
to cross over state lines. The Court agreed with USARK and USFWS appealed. One of the judges opted to explain in plain text, explaining that the word “between” in the language means shipping between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and any possessions of the country (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, etc.) There were more appeals, amicus briefs, injunctions, etc., but in the end, interstate transport in 49 states was legal again (though I think that shipping to Washington D.C. is not allowed.) Because of state laws, it is illegal to bring in animals without proper permits into the state of Florida, though they can leave with the state’s blessings. This whole thing was settled last year, so I’m not sure if it’s all been straightened out. And though I donated and volunteered, and became a member of USARK, I never thought that it would win against multiple government agencies. (Cue Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger.)
When drinking raw eggs was cool. Not that I ever thought it was cool.
I do want to clarify something - I’m not against the Lacey Act. It was passed in 1900 and was the first law to protect not only animals but the damage that animals or plants can cause, including bodily harm. It is fundamentally good. It's the people in departments that are trusted to enforce it correctly that are corrupt. During the lawsuit, USARK filed a FOIA request for documents about the case from DOI, USFWS, and USGS. I haven’t
were depended on to correctly look at data that determines not only the status of the animals and any alleged threats but for also the possibility of destroying people’s livelihoods and lives. There are two separate groups of these snakes in the U.S. Those that are wild in the Everglades and those that are kept as pets. The number released by owners are negligible compared to the amount that flew into the Everglades courtesy Hurricane Andrew Air. These men, and indeed, agencies, used false information to manipulate - and harm - the system. For what? Their careers? Fame? Fortune? Who knows? They earned their forty pieces of silver. And I have lost the ability to trust anything USGS, USFWS, and FWC says, especially on pythons, as they continue to release “findings” that "prove" the snakes will go north.
People who own reptiles are just as upset about irresponsible reptile owners as much as any responsible pet owner. However, the actions of tens of thousands of irresponsible pet owners will not ban cats - or even pass laws requiring that cats stay indoors or contained in some way outdoors. Cats are the most damaging invasive animal in the world! The responsible reptile owners are the ambassadors for our animals, taking every opportunity to educate the public about reptiles so others can see our passion for these beautiful and unique animals. Many people don’t understand or are scared. Most of us respect that. We are well aware of the weight we carry on our shoulders. We do not approve of the actions of reprehensible individuals, even government entities who show careless disregard not only for the animals but the people as well. Responsible owners should not be punished when we not only care for our reptiles but love them.
And one final thing that needs to be addressed. And that is the damage that USFWS, DOI, Congress, President Obama, and animal advocacy lobbyists did. If all had been left alone, then there would still be a ban on interstate shipments. By using junk science and reckless disregard, and unlawful actions when they went after snakes, they created an even worse scenario, even though the snakes can now be shipped - so can the plants and animals that are also on the invasive list that really should not be shipped between states and now, under the change in interstate shipment laws, will be spread to all of the states. They shot themselves in the foot, but they aren’t the ones who will have to deal with it. The taxpayers, our environment and our animals will.
David and Tracy Barker Articles and Communications
Links to the other installments: