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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Snake of the Union

burmese python
A burmese python
photo from USFWS

I wrote earlier this month on the need for the Obama administration to finish the job on large constrictor snakes by banning the trade in the five remaining species identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing a serious risk of becoming an invasive species —the reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda. The giant snakes, some of which are already established in parts of Florida, Puerto Rico, Aruba, and Cozumel, have been showing up in other states, including Hawaii. In fact, they could become established in large portions of the southern tier of the U.S.—from South Florida to Texas to Arizona to Hawaii.

Today a bipartisan group of eighteen members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of the Interior and the White House urging the administration to complete its ruling and issue a final regulation listing these species as injurious under the Lacey Act. The lawmakers wrote:

These snakes pose an unacceptable and preventable risk to the safety of the American people and threaten some of our nation’s most treasured natural habitats. Since 1990, twelve people have died from encounters with “pet” constrictor snakes, including a two-year-old Florida girl and a three-year-old Illinois boy who were both strangled in their cribs. Countless individuals have been injured or sickened by these injurious species. Additionally, these highly adaptable, invasive snakes have severely damaged precious native ecosystems, as we have seen with the Burmese python’s decimation of mammal populations in the Florida Everglades, and the boa constrictor’s displacement of native reptiles in Puerto Rico. We cannot afford to risk the introduction of additional invasive species that will be expensive and difficult to eradicate.

The letter concluded:

Finally, the largely unregulated reptile industry poses a significant burden to taxpayers. The FWS, in partnership with many organizations including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the South Florida Water Management District, has spent more than $6 million since 2005 attempting to combat the growing problem of Burmese pythons and other large invasive constrictor snakes in Florida. Yet, these predators continue to consume endangered and threatened species, kill family pets in residential neighborhoods, and have decimated almost 99 percent of the Everglades’ small and medium sized native mammals. The ability of an individual to own or sell a dangerous and exotic animal must be balanced against the interests of all Americans in preserving public safety.

The bipartisan letter was led by U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and co-signed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., Lois Frankel, D-Fla., Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Walter Jones, R-N.C., Jim Moran, D-Va., Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., Pedro Pierluisi, D-P.R., Tom Rooney, R-Fla., Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Gregorio Sablan, D-M.P., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas. We are grateful to these lawmakers for demanding that the administration avoid any further delay in adopting this rule, which will protect public safety, avert the loss of native species, reduce the suffering of snakes in the pet trade, and save tax dollars. Now it’s time for the White House to follow through with the actions needed to address this threat. 

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