HR511 Weekly Update December 3 : Representative John Fleming, M.D.

Just as we thought talks on further banning reptile ownership were complete HR511 has been picked up to add the final species to the Lacey Act banning a total of 9 snake species from interstate transport. Because these proceedings can often be complex and confusing we will be dedicating one blog post a week to the research, arguments, and ways you can get involved in HR511 and the protection of your freedoms.

We will start this series with the opening statement by the Honorable John Fleming, Chairman, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs at the Subcommittee Hearing on HR511: To Prohibit the Importation of Various Species of Constrictor Snakes on November 29,2012.

 

 

Good morning, today, we will hear testimony on H. R. 511, a bill introduced by the distinguished gentleman from Florida, Congressman Tom Rooney to list nine species of constrictor snakes under the Lacey Act.

 

Let me say at the outset that I compliment my colleagues from the Florida delegation for their tireless commitment to restoring the Florida Everglades. But I have concerns that H. R. 511 will end up destroying hundreds of small businesses without providing any real benefit to the Everglades.

 

By way of background, there are several key dates in this discussion. The first was on June 23, 2006, when the South Florida Water Management District petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list Burmese pythons on the Lacey Act. The next important date was on January 20, 2010, when the Secretary of the Interior proposed to administratively list nine species of constrictor snakes.

 

Before announcing a decision, however, the State of Florida implemented a law as of July 1, 2010, prohibiting the importation and personal possession of seven species of snakes including Burmese pythons.

 

Finally, after an exhaustive analysis by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U. S. Small Business Administration of more than 56,000 comments, the Secretary of the Interior announced on January 17th of this year that four of the nine species – including the two species that have established populations in the Everglades – would be treated as ‘injurious wildlife.” It is now a violation of federal law to import and to move these four species in interstate commerce. Upon making the decision, Secretary Salazar noted that it was intended to “strike a balance” between economic and environmental concerns.

 

We are now being asked in H. R. 511 to go far beyond the recommendations of the South Florida Water Management District, the State of Florida and the Fish and Wildlife Service by listing all nine species of constrictor snakes.

 

It is important to remember that millions of Americans own and have legally acquired constrictor snakes. They weren’t smuggled into this country. While some of these Americans are simply content to have a Boa constrictor as a pet, many others have created small businesses which breed them, feed them, provide equipment for them, sell them at pet stores, promote them at trade shows, provide veterinary care for them and other activities which contribute millions to our economy.

 

According to an economic analysis undertaken by the Georgetown Economic Services, the Boa constrictor, which was not listed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, “Accounts for 70 percent of all imports and 70 to 80 percent of all revenues generated by these nine species.” The Service estimated that the annual decrease in economic output of these snakes ranged from $42 million to $86.2 million. In addition, the House Committee on Oversight held a hearing on the proposed listing of the nine species and concluded in their report that “Over the first ten years, combined loss could be between $505 million and $1.2 billion”.

 

A witness at that hearing, Mr. David Barker of Texas, an internationally recognized authority on constrictor snakes stated that “This misguided regulations will destroy an entire industry, comprised almost exclusively of small and micro businesses. In short, if this rule goes into effect, it will destroy my life’s work and investments for no rational reason”.

 

During the course of this hearing, I hope to learn why the current Florida state law and recent Interior Department ruling seem, in some people’s minds, insufficient in addressing the Everglades problem. More specifically, does H. R. 511 protect current breeders, pet store owners and small businesses who trade these species in Louisiana, Michigan, New York and Washington State.

 

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Python Ban: The Discussion

In several of the documents relating to the addition of several species of snakes to the Lacey Act the assumption is made that during the periods of public comment very few responses were received, and those that were received were carefully considered.

Question 12:  What prompted the reopening of the public comment period of the proposed rule to list the Indian (Burmese) python and eight other large constrictor snakes as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act?

Answer:   In response to a number of requests from stakeholders, the Service granted an additional 30 days for the public comment period on the proposed rule for a total of 90 days.  

Question 13:  How many public comments did the Service receive? 

Answer:  The Service received about 56,500 comments for the proposed rule.  The public can view these comments at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R9-FHC-2008-0015.  A final determination was made after a comprehensive review of the scientific data and the information contained in comments submitted by the public and peer reviewers

 

http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2012/pdfs/FoursnakesQsAs11612.pdf

 

Here at Prehistoric Pets we believe it is the duty of those in office to protect the rights and wishes of their constituents and the duty of those constituents to get involved and carry an open discussion with their elected officials.

This is why we have stayed constantly involved in the discussion emailing, calling, and scheduling meetings with our representatives. Today’s blog includes our letter to Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer explaining our concerns for this legislation. We did not receive the response we had wished for, but at least our voice was heard.

Senator Boxer / Senator Feinstein ,

 

My name is Jay Brewer. I live and work in Orange County, Ca., actually for the past 22 years I have run and operated my small business, Prehistoric Pets.  I emailed you a bit early about setting up a one on one meeting regarding S 373. Below I have included some information on myself, my business, and my concerns for this bill. If we don't get a chance to meet I would appreciate if you could at least understand my stance on this subject and why this cause is so important.

When I opened Prehistoric Pets, as Pet Country, in 1988 the store focused on providing quality pets and service to our customers. As our stock of exotic reptiles grew we had the opportunity to expand first into a 5000 sq ft location in 1992, and then expand again in 2000. Our inventive set-up was the first of its kind, which I designed to create a zoo-like atmosphere with the philosophy“build it and they will come.” This philosophy proved correct and new customers started visiting the store to observe exotic reptiles, which are not displayed at even the largest of zoos.

This collection of specialized and rare reptiles also set PrehistoricPets.com apart, as a large online provider of quality reptiles. Demand for a new variety of high-end reptiles led to an increase of specialty breeding projects behind the scenes at our Fountain Valley location. These online sales, exported around the world and throughout the US, quickly became a very successful and large source of income for Prehistoric Pets. In 1995, we also began promoting our party business, Jurassic Parties, which proved very successful. Through Jurassic Parties we were able to educate the public at both schools and private events about reptiles using hands-on interaction with reptiles these children would have otherwise only read about in science books , to this day we have provided over 12,000 of these educational presentations across Southern California. These two factors combined allowed the 2000 expansion to its current size of 10,000 sq ft, with the most zoo-like experience over doubling our location size and producing a banner year in 2005.

As owner I have used difficult economic periods as a time to find a new niches Prehistoric Pets could settle into. From a 2000 gallon pond in the middle of the store, filled with Giant tropical fish to the displays exhibiting thousands of exotic reptiles of all sizes, Prehistoric Pets is a zoo. Over the summer we converted half of our location into a paid admission zoo, The Reptile Zoo, that serves as an educational center involving hands-on interaction with various types of reptiles. The support from customers, especially mothers, has been overwhelming. They love The Reptile Zoo and Prehistoric Pets as a destination for low price high benefit education entertainment for their children.

Unfortunately S 373 threatens to obliterate my passion and the business I have put my heart and soul into for the past 25 years also destroy an education resource for thousands of families throughout Orange and Los Angeles County without solving the problem it seeks to correct in South Florida.

As I had mentioned before along with running our 10,000 sq ft reptile zoo we are also one of the premiere breeders of Reticulated Pythons , honestly, in the world. We focus in the breeding of specialty "morphs", or color and pattern variations, that are completely impossible in the wild. With 25 years of this specialized breeding I have grown quite a stock in captive bred animals, making it extremely rare to ever import an animal from the wild.

Here in California we enjoy rather wonderful weather, but the majority of the United States is not as privileged with average temperatures in the high sixties. But even in such a warm weather I must spend thousands of dollars monthly to provide specialized heating for every single one of my snakes. You must understand, especially in these tough economic times, I would love to cut costs and stop paying for this heat but without it my animals would quickly catch colds, yes they can catch colds just like people, and sadly die. The same is true for breeders and reptile owners across the country that spend millions of dollars every year to provide specialized environments and care for our animals that would not be able to survive without our support. The reason it would be so impossible for these animals to survive even with balmy day temperatures of 60-80 degrees here in Southern California is their absolute reliance on surrounding temperatures. Snakes are cold blooded, which means unlike humans they cannot raise their own body temperature. Though they might enjoy the warm temperatures during the day with the extreme drop in temperature each night these snakes wouldn’t be able to bring their body temperature back up to a safe level, resulting in as I mentioned before severe colds and a quick death.

Another issue I see with this bill is regarding the actual "invasive threat" of these pythons and boas. Boas have lived in Mexico from the beginning of time and have not crossed the border or been cause for worry regarding infestation or destruction of wildlife... and even Burmese pythons have been in the Everglades for the last twenty something years without moving far north let alone the entire US. When you look at any study of the natural habitat of these pythons then follow the latitude line to where it crosses the United States you will find highest range these pythons can survive crosses into only a small section of Florida and nowhere else in the United States. If there is a problem in Florida it should be a state level with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee, as it currently is.

Thank you so much for hearing me out. I look forward to the opportunity to talk with you face to face in the very near future.

How was your voice heard? Have you contacted your representatives? Were you able to schedule an appointment to meet with one of their staff? What was their response?

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