HR 511 Part One: An Introduction to HR 511 and the Junk Science Behind It

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

Because we focused on the snake, we missed the scorpion.”  ~ Egyptian Proverb

The Legislative History of HR 511

US Congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL)

On January 26, 2011, U.S. Representative Thomas J. Rooney (R-FL) introduced House Resolution 511 which 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 following: of the Indian python of the species Python molurus, including the Burmese python of the species Python molurus bivittatus; of the reticulated python of the species Broghammerus reticulatus or Python reticulatus; of the Northern African python of the species Python sebae; of the Southern African python of the species Python natalensis; of the boa constrictor of the species Boa constrictor; of the yellow anaconda of the species Eunectes notaeus; of the DeSchauensee’s anaconda of the species Eunectes deschauenseei; of the green anaconda of the species Eunectes murinus; of the Beni anaconda of the species Eunectes beniensis.’

Following its introduction, HR 511, it was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.  From there, on February 14, 2011, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.  On February 27, 2012, it was discharged from that committee.  It was ordered to be reported on September 28, 2012 by a voice vote and was finally reported out on October 5, 2012 and referred to the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs.  On November 29, 2012, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs held a hearing on HR 511.

What is Behind HR 511 and Its Predecessors:  Garbage In, Garbage Out

At the outset, it is important to understand the facts.  HR 511 is not something new.  Permutations of it have been floating around for approximately five years.  In 2011, the Obama administration was successful in passing a rule change to the Lacey Act that made the interstate transport of four species of constrictor snakes illegal.  That rule change went into effect in February 2012.

The rule change was contingent upon the same fatally flawed “science” upon which the proponents of HR 511 continue to rely.  The house of cards began with the United States Geological Survey (“USGS”) and its “study” entitled, “What Parts of the US Mainland are Climatically Suitable for Invasive Alien Pythons Spreading from Everglades National Park” (“Climate Match”).  The study was flawed for many reasons, including but not limited to:

  • An incorrect conclusion that Burmese pythons can live throughout the bottom third of the United States;
  • It was erroneously based on temperature averages instead of temperature extremes leading to the incorrect conclusion that tropical pythons can survive the low temperatures ranges in areas outside of the southernmost tip of Florida;
  • It falsified data points in the published study by manufacturing data that were not in the data set by as much as 60% for a single country; and
  • It was widely condemned by scientists from around the world, including the National Geographic Society, University of Florida, and the Thailand National Natural History Museum.

The Climate Match was followed by a second piece of propaganda, a gray paper entitled, “Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Nine Species of Pythons, Anacondas and the Boa constrictor.” (The “Constrictor Report”.)  The Constrictor Report, a USGS internally generated document, was based on the junk science Climate Match. It was not peer reviewed and it was not published in any journal.

A panel of eleven independent experts from the National Geographic Society, the University of Florida, Texas A&M University and others condemned the Constrictor Report, stating in a letter to the US Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee that the Constrictor Report was “not scientific” and “not suitable as the basis for regulatory or legislative policy decisions.”  Even USGS itself, in its response to an Information Quality Act challenge generated by the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (“USARK”), was forced to admit that, “This document was not designated by the USGS as a highly influential, scientific document.”

HR 511 and its predecessors that have been buzzing around Washington DC like a throbbing swarm of bees is based on a “study” with falsified data and incorrect assumptions.  Its foundation is ideological propaganda meant to terrorize lay people and influence law makers.

Part Two of this Series will examine the truth about pythons in the Everglades and the heroes of the subcommittee hearing on November 29, 2012.

Part Three will dispel fact from fiction about constrictor snakes.

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