CatX — Quiet Storm of Lacey Act Overreach

This is a very interesting article on a recent move by US Fish & Wildlife and the implications of the current overreach via the Lacey Act.

The Last Word on Wildlife

Captive Bred Reticulated Python Captive Bred Reticulated Python

In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has empowered itself to shortcut the rule making process under the Lacey Act in order to more easily and arbitrarily declare “Injurious Wildlife” listings, and making way for the potential mass listing of species. Known as CatX, this newly enacted rule will negatively impact zoos and aquariums, research facilities, TV and film, aquaculture, herpetoculture, and the pet trade.

What is a Categorical Exclusion (CatX)?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) states:
A categorical exclusion is a class of actions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment. Under NEPA, Federal agencies are required to consider the potential environmental impact of agency actions prior to implementation. Agencies are then generally required to prepare either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement…

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The Filthy Underbelly: Animal Abuse in California

I need to begin by saying that I do not in any way support People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I do not believe that PETA is ethical and I do not believe that PETA treats animals ethically.  I believe that Ingrid Newkirk has a self admitted legacy of killing animals and that PETA’s practices result in the suffering of more animals.  For my complete thoughts on this, please see my blog “Why I Cannot Support PETA and Ingrid Newkirk.”

That being said, I cannot support the neglect, abuse and torture of animals in any capacity.  The video link below was taken by a PETA operative at the business of an animal dealer in California. I have heard rumors from people in the top eschelon of the reptile industry whose place this is, but I have not confirmed it so I will not say.  The video speaks for itself.

I have spent significant time and effort advocating for the protection of the rights of herpetoculturists so that people who responsibly and humanely keep and breed reptiles and amphibians may continue to be able to do so.  I hate to think that anything I have done protects the rights of people such as the business in this video, and if I have, that is a very bitter pill to swallow.

I do not believe that there should be blanket legislation prohibiting the keeping and breeding of reptiles and amphibians. However, I do believe that animal welfare statutes need to be strong, clear and enforceable. People who commit these atrocities should be subjected to the full force of the law, and the punishments for these egregious crimes need to be stronger.

I have written about the shared responsibility of reputable dog breeders to help ameliorate the suffering of dogs mistreated within the dog community.  Herpetoculturists need to exercise the same responsibility.  No animal deserves to be tortured and neglected.  The privilege of engaging with these marvelous creatures inures a responsibility on the entire community to act against people who abuse and neglect.

Something is Rotten in the State of Ohio and its Name is HSUS

HSUSOn November 27, 2012, the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) filed its Motion to Intervene in Wilkins et al. v. Daniels et al., Case No. 2:12-CV-01010-GC., seeking to have the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals Act (“DWA”) declared unconstitutional.  Normally, a lawsuit involves the plaintiffs (who bring the suit), and the defendants (whom the suit is brought against).  Sometimes, an entity who is not party to a lawsuit in progress seeks to become a party.  Such a party must file a Motion to Intervene.  Generally, to be admitted into the lawsuit, the intervenor must have an interest in the subject matter of the original suit.  The Motion to Intervene was granted on December 3, 2012.  This case is set to begin trial on Monday, December 10, 2012.

In its Motion to Intervene, HSUS has revealed its true intent with uncharacteristic candor.  The message is simple:

  • HSUS needs to prevail in Ohio in order to ensure its flow of private donations;
  • HSUS plans to bring similar legislation in other states;
  • If HSUS loses in Ohio, its ability to impose similar burdensome legislation in other states will be lessened; and
  • HSUS spent significant organizational funds to push the DWA through.

(See HSUS Motion to Intervene, excerpts included at the end of this post.)

All members of the reptile community, as well as the exotics community, as well as anyone who is interested in a government that is not empowered to take private property from citizens without compensation and without due process of law, should join together in opposing the DWA in Ohio.  HSUS has announced that it is poised to take this legislation to other states.  If the State of Ohio upholds legislation that allows the DOA to take exotic pets from its residents without due process, it will set precedent for the taking of dogs, cats, and farm animals.

Please support the plaintiffs in Ohio.  If they lose this case, they will need funding to appeal.  If they win, they will need funding to address whatever modifications the legislature proposes in its stead.  Polly Briton and the Ohio Association of Animal Owners (OAAO) need funding to keep this fight going.

Key Excerpts from HSUS’s Motion to Intervene:

“The Humane Society is funded in part by private donations, and its ability to generate continued donor support depends heavily on the success of its efforts . . . It follows that if the legislative achievements of the Humane Society —like the DWA
Act—are overturned, the organization will lose . . . financial support.”  

“This case marks the first constitutional challenge to a state dangerous wild animal law, and many states are currently considering adopting similar laws to address the problem of private possession of dangerous wild animals. The Humane Society is expending resources to support passage of those laws and, therefore, the precedential nature of this lawsuit could have an impact on the organization’s other legislative efforts and future possible litigation concerning those legislative efforts.”

“[A] ruling striking down the [DWA] could have a significant impact on the Humane Society’s pecuniary and reputational interests.”

“[T]he DWA Act provides a concrete and substantial benefit to the Humane Society.”

“The Humane Society undeniably has an interest in upholding the DWA Act because the Humane Society was an active proponent of the legislation, directly participating in policy discussions to develop a legislative framework, analyzing proposed legislative language, and promoting passage of the bill.”

“The Humane Society . . . expended significant resources in order to ensure the law’s passage.”

 

Wilkins et al. v. David Daniels and the Ohio Department of Agriculture

© 2012 Erika N. Chen-Walsh

From April of this year until I resigned on October 12, 2012, I was formally involved with USARK and engaged heavily in Ohio against Troy Balderson’s balderdash bill, SB 310.  I have blogged extensively on this over reaching, unconstitutional, unfunded mandate of a legislative disaster.  (See SB 310:  Kasich’s Big Expensive Blunder Poised to Kill Small Business in Ohio.”)  In June 2012, the Ohio legislature enacted and Governor Kasich signed the Ohio Dangerous Animals Act (“DAA”).

On November 2, 2012, a group of Ohio residents filed a suit in federal court captioned as Wilkins et al. v. Daniels et al., Case No. 2:12-CV-01010-GC.  In the underlying suit, plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment, temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunction and nominal damages for violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

I will explain the legal nomenclature in lay terms for ease of understanding.

A declaratory judgment is an adjudication of the rights and status of litigants.  Here, the plaintiffs are seeking to have the Court declare that the imposition of the burdens of (1) joining and funding the objectionable views of a private organization; (2) having one’s private property seized; or (3) obtaining and maintaining a license under Chapter 935 of the Ohio Revised Code are unconstitutional on their face and as applied to Plaintiffs because they violate the rights to freedom of speech, private property, and due process of law guaranteed under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

temporary restraining order is a court order of limited duration. It commands a defendant in a case to maintain a certain status until the court can hear further evidence and decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction.

preliminary injunction is a temporary court order that prevents the other party from pursuing a particular course of conduct until the conclusion of a trial on the merits.  A permanent injunction is a permanent order that precludes the other party from engaging in a particular course of conduct.

Nominal damages are nominal money damages.

Temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are considered extraordinary relief.  In order to prevail on a preliminary injunction, the moving party must show (1)  a strong likelihood of success on the merits; (2) that the movant would otherwise suffer irreparable injury; (3) whether the issuance of a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction would cause substantial harm to the non moving party; and (4) whether the public interest would be served by the issuance of a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction.

In this case, the Plaintiffs have petitioned for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction.  Although no order has been entered, sources close to the lawsuit have stated that the attorneys in the case have a “gentlemen’s agreement” that the Ohio Department of Agriculture (“ODA”) will not enforce the DAA on a temporary basis.  This should be a matter of grave concern to all exotic animal owners in Ohio because the deadline to register exotic animals restricted by the DAA has passed.  Those who did not register face repercussions.  On the other hand, registering exotic animals under the current law strengthens the position of ODA in the lawsuit.  It is a very slippery slope with significant risk.  Plaintiffs should push hard for a court order granting the preliminary injunction to protect their property rights.

The allegations of unconstitutionality are as follows:

First Amendment – freedom of association.  Plaintiffs claim that the DAA abrogates their right to freedom of association by forcing their involvement with the American Zoological Association and the Zoological Association of America.

The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.  The allegations are vague as to the Fourth Amendment implications, but ostensibly, the objection is to the ability of ODA to inspect private property without a warrant.

The Fifth Amendment, inter alia, sets out rules for eminent domain and protects the right to due process.  Eminent domain is a governmental takings without compensation argument.  Plaintiffs make a claim that the DAA is tantamount to the Ohio government depriving them of their animals without procedural due process, and that their animals are property as a matter of law.

The Fourteenth Amendment contains the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.  In very short terms, Due Process requires the government to give a party due process of law before depriving the party of property.  The Equal Protection clause says that, “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Here, it means that Ohio exotic animal owners who are not members of AZA or ZAA are not receiving equal protection under the law.

When I was part of USARK, I summarized constitutional issues that I saw in SB 310 for Andrew Wyatt with an eye on a potential lawsuit, and Wyatt agreed.  However,  certain members of the USARK board are risk averse and have an organizational aversion to lawsuits, so those issues never came to fruition.

With respect to the allegations in the case at bar, some of the constitutional challenges are, in my opinion, very strong.  Some are not as strong.  I am not going to publicly criticize any of them because that is how lawsuits work, and I will endeavor not to write a single word that could lessen the chances of the Ohio plaintiffs from prevailing.  The doctrine of res judicata precludes litigants from later raising legal challenges in court that could have been brought in a prior lawsuit, unless new facts come to light.  In lay terms, this means that the Ohio plaintiffs need to bring every possible claim they have in one lawsuit or they will be barred from bringing them later.

On November 27, 2012, the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) filed a Motion to Intervene in the Ohio lawsuit.  That request was granted in an order by United States District Court Judge George C. Smith on December 3, 2012. (See December 3, 2012 Order Granting HSUS Leave to Intervene.)

This is a very important development for the Ohio plaintiffs and the entire reptile community should pay very close attention.  Goliath has just entered the arena.  The HSUS legislative machine is fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars in donations.  The Ohio plaintiffs are operating on a very frugal budget.  The reason that HSUS is entering this case, with all of its clout and all of its money, is set forth explicitly in its Motion to Intervene:

“This case marks the first constitutional challenge to a state dangerous wild animal law, and many states are currently considering adopting similar laws to address the problem of private possession of dangerous wild animals. The Humane Society is expending resources to support passage of those laws and, therefore, the precedential nature of this lawsuit could have an impact on the organization’s other legislative efforts and future possible litigation concerning those legislative efforts.”

(HSUS Motion to Intervene at p. 13.)

It is extremely important to the rights of reptile keepers and all exotic animal keepers to prevail in Ohio.  HSUS could win this fight just by grinding this case into the ground financially.  Polly Briton and the Ohio Association of Animal Owners (OAAO) need funding to keep this fight going.  If they lose, we all lose.

There are many divisions within the reptile community, both organizationally and personally. Now is not the time for infighting among ourselves.  If reptile keepers and owners cannot come together for this common cause, the entire community is going to face an unprecedented onslaught of anti-reptile keeping legislation in the coming years.

Andrew Wyatt is a close personal friend of mine and a trusted colleague.  However, I would encourage any reptile or exotic animal keeper who has money to donate at this time to send it to the OAAO via Polly Briton and nowhere else.  The in-community fighting and rhetoric must stop or we fuel HSUS’s fight against us.  There will be another lawsuit coming down the pike shortly at the federal level, and that one is also going to need funding, but the pressing need right now is in Ohio.

 

HSUS: The Pacelle Propaganda Machine Hampers Progress For Animals

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) blogged today, lambasting Andrew Wyatt andU.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) for opposing  U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s (R-FL) animal rights driven House Resolution 511.  HR 511 seeks to amend title 18, United States Code (the “Lacey Act”), to prohibit the importation of nine species of constrictor snakes as injurious species.  These include the Burmese python, the reticulated python, the North African rock python, the South African rock python, the Boa constrictor, and three species of anaconda.

Andrew Wyatt preparing to testify before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs

Andrew Wyatt preparing to testify before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs

Apparently, the reptile community, led by Andrew Wyatt, has struck a nerve with the $200 million plus per year animal rights legal behemoth, HSUS.  Pacelle’s angst at Wyatt is not particularly surprising.  Since co-founding the United States Association of Reptile Keepers in 2008, Wyatt has emerged victorious in more than two dozen state engagements defending the rights of herptile owners as well as multiple federal entanglements.  These victories have come on a shoestring budget and against HSUS’s powerhouse millions.  Wyatt is most certainly a bothersome thorn in Pacelle’s manicured paw, and one that will not go away.

Pacelle said today, “But the reptile lobby—yes, there is such a thing—has been thrashing its collective tail and saying how benign these snakes are and that cold weather will prevent the snakes from going much farther than the Everglades (I guess it’s no matter to these supposed snake “lovers” that the snakes will freeze to death).”

Pacelle’s comment is interesting for two reasons.  First, using HSUS’s own statistics, 17 people have been killed by large constrictors in the US since 1978.  HSUS further claims that there have been 1,111,768 large constrictors imported since 1977.  Using those figures alone, without factoring in the millions of large constrictors bred in captivity this country since 1978, it makes the risk of death from a large constrictor less than 0.01%.  Large constrictors may not be “benign,” but the risk of being killed by a vending machine, a clothes dryer, a sand hole, a shark attack, a dog or a bee are significantly higher than the statistical risk of being killed by a large constrictor.

Second, Pacelle seems to concede that the snakes will freeze to death if they travel north of the most southern tip of Florida.  HSUSclaims on its own web site about reptiles, “Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.”  As great a shock as it may come to HSUS, animals in the wild are not frolicking about making daisy chains and counting stars as they do in Disney movies.  Wild animals die of disease, injury, predation, starvation, and yes, from the elements of nature.

Clearly, Pacelle’s remark is intended only to inure sympathy from animal lovers who don’t truly understand the issue. HSUS has used similar rhetoric about dog breeders, showing a decided recalcitrance to distinguish between responsible breeders and puppy mills.  Responsible reptile owners and breeders do not want to see the suffering of any herptile, and they certainly don’t advocate releasing any captive reptiles into the wild.

Wayne Pacelle and convicted dog fighting felon, Michael Vick, following the Atlanta Falcon’s $50,000 donation to a cause related to HSUS.

Pacelle’s tantrum continues, “Somehow the snake lobby, in the form of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, has hoodwinked a number of Republican House members and apparently convinced them that this is a matter of “economic freedom.”

This is about economic freedom. HSUS does not have the right to deprive American citizens of their property interests and their livelihoods simply because Pacelle doesn’t agree with reptile ownership.  It must be incredibly empowering for one person to believe that his ideology should translate into law for every American citizen, but it is the duty of lawmakers to protect the interests of their constituents, no matter how much it upsets Mr. Pacelle.  The majority of people involved in true herpetoculture, the breeding and ownership of captive bred reptiles, care immensely about the health and welfare of the animals they keep.  (If Pacelle is truly concerned about the welfare of animals, perhaps he should revisit his endorsement of convicted dog fighting felon, Michael Vick, who, for a monetary donation, now receives Pacelle’s endorsement.)

Pacelle speciously condemns U.S. Rep. Southerland for condoning the import of  “dangerous invasive species into the country for use as pets, even if they are creating ecological havoc, injuring and killing private citizens, and costing the nation millions of dollars in terms of containment activities.”  (When he hasn’t got facts, he embellishes.)  Notably, Pacelle provides no back up for his inflammatory and false rhetoric.  HSUS’s fall back plan is to continue to terrify the public about non existent threats in order to feather HSUS’s own legal nest.  (HSUS has conceded in its Motion to Intervene in Ohio that it has an economic interest in winning legislative engagements because doing so attracts more monetary donations.  I will be writing on that topic next.)  If Pacelle needs to succeed in state and federal legislatures in order to attract the hundreds of millions of dollars that pay his six figure salary, perhaps he should set his sights on those more dangerous predators, such as vending machines, clothes dryers and sand holes.

U.S. Representatives Fleming and Southerland, Dr. Brady Barr, Shawn Heflick, Colette Sutherland and Andrew Wyatt should be commended for bringing facts to the table regarding the threat of pythons in the Everglades and the economic impact of arbitrary and capricious government action.  The role of our representatives in Congress is to protect our rights from unnecessary and harmful legislation, not to ensure that Pacelle has enough “wins” to fund HSUS into perpetuity.

HR 511 Part Three: Separating Fact From Fiction About Constrictor Snakes

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

“Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way.”
~ Jean Anouilh

1-DSC_0361The Statistical Danger of Death From Captive Constrictor Snakes

According to the American Pet Products Association, there were 13 million reptiles living as pets in the U.S. as of 2011.

HSUS calls large constrictor snakes “high maintenance, deadly predators.”  (Debbie Leahy, Captive Wildlife Regulatory Specialist, HSUS, June 8, 2012.)   HSUS’s official policy on all reptiles is that, “For public health, conservation, and humane reasons, The HSUS recommends that the general public forgo pet reptiles. Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.”  (www.humanesociety.org/issues/exotic_pets/facts/reptile_trade.html, accessed November 30, 2012.)

HSUS has named large constrictors to its list of “Species of Greatest Concern,” which also includes big cats, small wild cats, bears, primates, wolves, venomous reptiles, and alligators and crocodiles. HSUS’s written goal is to pass laws “limiting the possession of these animals to zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries (GFAS).”

In pursuit of this goal, has used extremely inflammatory rhetoric to try to terrorize the general public and to inspire lawmakers to1-pig-erika (1) action based on false premises.  According to Leahy, the problem with escaped large constrictors has reached the point where, “Escaped pythons are springing out of toilets, attacking people in gardens and ambushing children playing in their yards.”

The facts do not support this hyperbole.  The argument is most easily made using HSUS’s own statistics (for which they do not provide citations.)  HSUS claims that 17 people have been killed by large constrictors in the US since 1978.  HSUS further claims that there have been 1,111,768 large constrictors imported since 1977.  Using those figures alone, without factoring in the millions of large constrictors bred in captivity this country since 1978, it makes the risk of death from a large constrictor less than 0.01%.  Less than 1/100th of 1% risk of being killed by a large constrictor snake.  If the millions of captive born constrictors in this country are considered, that fraction of a percent plummets even further.  And that is using HSUS’s own statistics.

The chance of being killed by a vending machine, a clothes dryer, a sand hole, a shark attack, a dog or a bee are significantly higher than the statistical risk of being killed by a large constrictor.

chickenThe Risk of Salmonella

The risk of salmonella is not limited to snakes, and is in fact more common with respect to turtles.  Nonetheless, according to CDC and USDA 87% of all salmonella cases result from food related sources.  Only 3% are derived from pets, and less than 0.1% are derived from reptiles.  The risk of salmonella from pets can be eliminated or mitigated with proper hygiene.

The consumption of chicken and eggs pose a far greater risk of salmonella poisoning than reptiles.

Invasive Species

The risk of large constrictor snakes being able to survive outside of the southernmost tip of Florida has been discussed in the first two parts of this series.  However, below are two maps to illustrate the survival range of large constrictor snakes in the U.S.:

The map used in the fatally flawed Climate Match from USGS that mistakenly relied on temperature averages to produce and incorrect range of habitat for tropical constrictors.

The map used in the fatally flawed Climate Match from USGS that mistakenly relied on temperature averages to produce and incorrect range of habitat for tropical constrictors.

The actual geographic range in which tropical constrictors can survive in the U.S.

The actual geographic range in which tropical constrictors can survive in the U.S.

In reality, feral cats and feral pigs cause significantly more damage to domestic ecosystems and wildlife than snakes.  Moreover, as mammals, feral cats and pigs are vectors of zoonotic diseases that are transmissible to humans (rabies, distemper, toxoplasmosis, campylobacter, etc.).  Snakes do not.  Wild deer populations are more dangerous to the public at large due to collisions with motor cars than are feral or captive bred snakes.

Closing Remarks

Representative Southerland (R-FL) summed it up perfectly when he described HR 511 as being a “solution looking for a problem.”  Reptiles have not posed a public safety risk or an invasive species risk in the United States.  The role of the government is not to preemptively legislate animals that are the lifeblood of small businesses to slake the thirst of overzealous animal rights advocates, such as HSUS, seeking to get blooded on exotic animal legislation.

Herpetoculturists need to control this dialogue through education and the spread of accurate information about what these animals mean to us as pets, what they mean to our business interests, and the value they add to our lives and our economy.


Part One of this series of posts discussed the background of HR 511 and the falsified junk science upon which it is based.

Part Two examined  the truth about pythons in the Everglades and the heroes of the subcommittee hearing on November 29, 2012.

HR 511 Part Two: The Truth About the Everglades and Heroes of the Subcommittee Hearing

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

Part One of this series discussed the background of HR 511 and the falsified junk science upon which it is based.  Part Three dispels other myths and propaganda about constrictor snakes.

The HR 511 Subcommittee Hearing of November 29, 2012

cap-reflecting2The U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a legislative hearing on HR 511 on November 29, 2012.  (The hearing in its entirety can be viewed online here.)  Andrew Wyatt had originally been invited to supply all four opponent witnesses to testify against HR 511 in the Subcommittee hearing. However, in the two weeks prior to the hearing, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (“PIJAC”) became interested in the issue and asked to provide an opposition witness as well.  The final witness panel included the following (each witness’s written testimony is linked to their name):

In opposition to HR 511:

Dr. Brady Barr
Resident Herpetologist,
National Geographic Society and
Dangerous Encounters
Geographic Channel

Shawn K. Heflick
The Python Hunters
National Geographic Channel

Andrew Wyatt
President and Chief Executive Officer
United States Association of Reptile Keepers

Colette Sutherland
“The Snake Keeper”
Spanish Fork, UT

In support of HR 511:

John Kostyack
Vice President
National Wildlife Federation

Peter Jenkins
Executive Director
National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species

Opening Remarks from the Hon. John C. Fleming (R-LA), Subcommittee Chair

Chairman Fleming demonstrated an immediate understanding of the issues and a genuine concern for the economy and the protection of small businesses, stating, “I have concerns that H.R. 511 will end up destroying hundreds of small businesses without providing any real benefit to the Everglades.”  He further noted that HR 511 now seeks to “go far beyond the recommendations of the South Florida Water Management District, the State of Florida and the Fish and Wildlife Service.”  Chairman Fleming delivered a thorough and accurate history of issues surrounding constrictor snakes and the Lacey Act, and herpetoculturists owe a debt of gratitude to Chairman Fleming for his thorough and thoughtful analysis of the issue.

Pythons in the Everglades

Dr. Brady Barr, Resident Herpetologist, National Geographic Society, expressed frustration at the amount of misinformation being Barr-Sutherland-Heflickdisseminated to the public and clearly explained, as a PhD in the field of reptiles, why pythons cannot survive beyond the southernmost tip of Florida, stating that,

“The snake species referenced in this hearing are native to tropical regions of the planet, whereas the Southern Everglades is a sub- tropical climate characterized by seasonal temperature fluctuations and more extremes. These tropical snakes do not possess the behavior and physiology to tolerate cold temperatures. Low temperatures (below 15 degrees C.) result in these snakes having problems digesting prey, acquiring prey, avoiding predation, moving, essentially surviving. Furthermore, these snakes lack the innate behavior to seek refugia at the onset of cold weather conditions, resulting in quick death or a compromised immune system in which the snake ultimately succumbs. Climate data reveal that temperatures found in Southern Florida simply are not conducive to the long term survival of large tropical snakes. When it gets cold, these snakes die.” (Emphasis added.)

This opinion was echoed by Shawn Heflick, a biologist with a Masters Degree on invasive species in Florida. Heflick has traveled the world capturing and studying pythons, anaconda and boas on five continents.  He is a licensed Python Agent for both the Everglades National Park and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and he is the Host of National Geographic WILD’s series, The Python Hunters, which explores the conservation issues of reptiles around the globe and educates people about their plight.

Heflick described a study he conducted with collaboration from the USDA, APHIS and FWS ith permitting from Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission, which included both Boa constrictor and Burmese Pythons. Within just four days, 100% of the specimens in the study had died due to exposure to the cold.  (Jacobson et al. 2012.) Heflick testified that the wild Burmese python population has not expanded beyond south Florida and further, that it is on the decline, due to massive die-offs in 2009/2010, rendering population numbers lower than ever before.

Colette Sutherland, of The Snake Keepers, also testified that her snake breeding business had suffered severe adverse consequences due to the fear that Boa constrictor would be added to the Lacey Act list of injurious species.  Animals for which she had paid $25,000 per pair, she was unable to sell.  Sutherland and her husband ended up euthanizing 60 adult boas because of the market collapse caused by bills such as HR 511.

Brady-WyattAndrew Wyatt, president of USARK, testified about both economic impact and the fallacy of pythons thriving outside of southern Florida.  Wyatt cited a new study published in Integrative Zoology, “Environmental temperatures, physiology and behavior limit the range expansion of invasive Burmese pythons in southeastern USA,” by Jacobson et al., which is a collaboration by University of Florida, USDA and real python experts.  It is a peer reviewed paper confirms what other studies have also demonstrated: “…[I]t appears unlikely that the Burmese pythons inhabiting the Everglades will be capable of expanding or becoming established far beyond southern Florida”.  Wyatt referenced at least four other cold weather studies from the University of Florida, USDA Wildlife Services, Savannah River Ecological Lab and Vida Preciosa International that refute the USGS projections.

Wyatt offered compelling testimony, citing the Georgetown Economic Services (GES) report on “The Modern US Reptile Industry” in 2011. According to GES, listing these nine constricting snakes on the ‘Injurious Wildlife’ list of the Lacey act would cost small businesses as much as $104 million in the first year and much as $1 billion over 10 years. This action has been opposed by the US Chamber of Commerce, The Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of the Advocate, Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), PIJAC and USARK.

Proponents of HR 511, including but not limited to the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”), the Natural Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species (“NECIS”), and the National Wildlife Federation (“NWF”) promote misinformation about pythons in the Everglades.  The testimony of both Peter Jenkins and John Kostyack relied heavily on information from HSUS.

Kostyack testified that, “Giant constrictors are top predators in the south Florida ecosystem. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), they are voracious and indiscriminate consumers of native wildlife and can grow rapidly to more than 20 feet in length and 250 lbs in weight.”  Using the typical hyperbole of the animal rights industry, Kostyack ignored the fact that the largest feral Burmese python in U.S. history was captured in August 2012, measuring in at 17.7′.

Jenkins, also following the HSUS mantra, testified about an “excellent new report by the Humane Society on Constrictor Snake Incidents,” which stted that reticulated pythons “are known as particularly “vicious,” prone to unprovoked attacks and in their native ranges are reported as “man eaters” more so than any other species of snake.”  Jenkins provided no reference for his inflammatory rhetoric.  Jenkins went on to try to take issue with the GES report cited by Wyatt about the economic impact of reptiles in the US.  Notably, Jenkins failed to offer any evidence to refute it.

Ranking Minority Member Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands) expressed concern about the risk of large constrictors becoming a problem in the island territories.  Representative Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam) expressed concern over the problem of the brown tree snake in Guam.

However, perhaps Representative Steve Southerland, II (R-FL) summed it up best, when he stated that HR 511 is “a solution looking for a problem.”

Chairman Fleming concurred, stating that, “Florida is handling a Florida problem that exists only in Florida . . . our Federal Constitution created a government in which the rights of the federal government would be limited and all other powers would go to the states.”

Herpetoculturists in the U.S. need to make their voices known in a respectful and professional way.  Please commend Chairman Fleming and Representative Southerland on their intelligent treatment of this issue, which is being driven hard by ideologues who believe that reptiles should not be kept as pets under any circumstances.