Good Riddance to the Death of HR 511

Last year may have been a year filled with great experiences and adventures, but something we are happy to leave behind in 2012 is HR 511! Thanks to the reptile community and animal lovers alike for banning together to protect your freedoms, legislation to ban interstate transport of the Indian & Reticulated Pythons, Green & Beni Anacondas and Boas has been defeated.

 

Unfortunately the same couldn't be said for Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) the northern (Python sebae) and southern African rock python, (Python natalensis) and the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus) who as of March 23, 2012 are included in the Lacey Act. This addition does not federally ban ownership, but does place restrictions on interstate transport for any reason including pet owners moving from state to state.

 

 

For more information on the HR 511's time in Congress and Lacey Act requirements, check out our previous blog posts below.

RED ALERT: STOP HR511 Python BAN TODAY!

 

Python Ban: The Adaptability Argument

Python Ban: The Special Interest Argument

Python Ban: The Discussion

Python Ban: The Economic Argument

Python Ban: The "Good Science" Argument

Python Ban: The Precedent Argument

Python Ban: The Pet Argument

Python Ban: The Answers to Living Under the Lacey Act

 

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

HR511 Weekly Update December 10 : Brady Barr Resident Herpetologist at National Geographic Society

HR511 Weekly Update December 18 : Colette Sutherland TSK, Inc.

 

Thank you to those who called their representatives to ensure the truth about HR511 was heard and thank you to those representatives for listening to the facts and ignoring the hype. Here at Prehistoric Pets we wish this unbased attack was never opened but we are SO EXCITED to be able to close the discussion and looming threats with be it not without losses, a victory for reptiles.

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HR511 Weekly Update December 18 : Colette Sutherland TSK, Inc.

Earlier this month we introduced this weekly series with the opening statements from Representative John Fleming, M.D. at the Subcommittee Hearing on HR511: To Prohibit the Importation of Various Species of Constrictor Snakes on November 29,2012. Today's testimony is from Colette Sutherland's moving testimony on HR 511 bill introduced to add species of snakes to Lacey Act. 


Mr. Chair and members of the Subcommittee, I am Colette Sutherland and I along with my husband Dan own TSK, Inc. that was started back in 1989. Thank you for inviting me to present testimony on the H.R. 511, a bill that would add nine species of constrictor snakes to the Lacey Act.



I have been keeping and breeding various types of reptiles for the past 40 years. I have a Bachelors of Science in Zoology with a teaching option in Biology from Brigham Young University in 1985. While at the University I worked in the Herpetology department taking care of the live reptiles that were there at the time. The reptiles there included a Burmese python, common boa, Gila monster and various venomous snakes.

 

In 2000 we were approached by Dr. Mark Seward to make a video on breeding ball pythons. We agreed and the video and accompanying information came out in 2001. In late 2004 I was approached by TFH, a large animal care publishing company, and authored a basic book on ball python care for their “Quick and Easy” series. In late 2008 I was again approached by TFH to write another more comprehensive ball python book for their “Complete Herp Care” series which was published in 2009. In 2011Benson Morrill, a Utah State University graduate, used data that had been collected at our facility for close to10 years to publish his doctoral thesis - Quantitative Genetic Analysis of Reproduction Traits in Ball Pythons. In 2012 this paper was also submitted by Dr. Benson Morrill to the Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics.

With respect to H.R 5ll, I have serious concerns about the approach being taken. Listing a species under the Lacey Act by legislative fiat is not in my opinion the best course for dealing with Federal regulation of an invasive species. The listing process currently employed by the Fish and Wildlife Service while possibly in need of revision to be more expeditious at least is founded upon science-based findings. The process is open to public comment, peer review, and potential modification via the regulatory process. As you are aware the US Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year listed four species of large constrictor snakes as injurious under the Lacey Act. The Service deferred making a final decision with respect to five non-native constrictor species that the Service at that time did not believe that listing was warranted. I believe that the Service is in the best position to make such findings. I submitted comments at various stages of the Fish and Wildlife Services’ evaluation of large constrictor snakes. Additionally, as a member of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s (PIJAC) Reptile and Amphibian Committee, I worked closely with them in addressing various aspects of the regulatory listing process. Then as now I am opposed to a nationwide ban on any species whose potential negative impact at best is limited to extremely localized areas in south Florida.

According to Fish and Wildlife Service a species is evaluated on a variety of factors before it can be listed as injurious: “Such as the species’ survival capabilities and ability to spread geographically; its impacts on habitats and ecosystems, threatened and endangered species, and human beings and resource-based industries; and resource managers’ ability to control and eradicate the species. Analysis of these factors guides the Service’s listing determination. Scientific data is reviewed for factors that contribute to injuriousness and factors that reduce or remove injuriousness. In addition, other laws require that various economic analyses are conducted to determine the economic impacts of potential rulemakings”. Four of the original 9 large constrictors have already been added to the Lacey Act’s injurious species list. The remaining five, Beni anaconda, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, Green anaconda, Reticulated python and Boa constrictor are what will be discussed here.

Using the above criteria, we will look at the potential impact that the three anaconda species may have upon the Continental United States. Hawaii is left out since it is illegal to ship any snake to Hawaii and we can certainly exclude Alaska, as it is far too cold for any boa or python to survive there unless kept under captive conditions. The Beni and DeSchauensee’s anacondas at this time are not available in the pet trade nor are they currently kept in our country anywhere. Even if these 2 species did exist in the pet trade, there are no suitable climates here in the United States for them to successfully thrive according to the USGS risk assessment, let alone survive. Since there are no existing climates in the United States where they could survive that seems to preclude them from being injurious. What would be the purpose of adding them to the Lacey Act, - they don’t even exist in our country neither could they survive here in the wild.

In response to a recent inquiry regarding the status of these two species, David Barker, a noted herpetologist and author emailed me the following information on November 20:

To my knowledge, there has never been a live specimen of beniensis in the country (and I’ve looked). There very few records or reports of the northern yellow anaconda, E. deschauenseei in captivity in this country or Europe, and I am not aware of any in captivity in the past 30 years. Both species are given no chance of surviving in this country, according to the climate match of Reed and Rodda (2009). The green anaconda on the other hand is in the pet trade, although in very small numbers. It has never had a huge following. The very large size along with its requirement of a more specialized care has limited the number of people that can successfully raise such a species. The green anaconda could potentially live in one area of the United States and that would be south Florida, however Florida has already taken steps to prevent an introduction of this species into the Everglades. As of July 1 2010 a Florida law was passed to deal with reptiles of concern. The green anaconda is on this list and is no longer available for personal use in the state of Florida. Private citizens that owned this snake prior to this date were grandfathered in and allowed to keep their animal until it expired as long as they followed the rules set out by the law. The snake must be micro chipped and the owners are required to follow all reporting and security procedures. Commercial dealers, exhibitors and research institutions can have them, but they must adhere to strict bio-security requirements for housing and transporting the animal. In essence the state of Florida has already effectively mitigated any potential problem posed by the green anaconda. Again looking at one of the criteria used by Fish and Wildlife Service with respect to its ability to spread geographically, green anaconda can only survive in a very small portion of southern Florida where the temperature and amount of water is consistent for their survival. Since Florida has already enacted very stringent regulations regarding the keeping of this species, again what would be the purpose of adding them to the Lacey Act? Quite simply a nationwide ban is not warranted by any scientific measure.

Next is the reticulated python. Unlike the green anaconda, the reticulated pythons are broken down into three subspecies Python reticulatus reticulatus, Python reticulatus jampeanus, and Python reticulatus saputrai. The smallest of these subspecies is Python reticulates jampeanus with adult females attaining lengths between 6 – 8 feet. All of these subspecies have been bred together in captivity in an effort to produce a smaller reticulated python. Another substantial difference between the reticulated python and the green anaconda is the tremendous color variation seen in captive bred individuals, because of the number of beautiful color morphs (name given to colors and patterns that differ from the normal wild pattern and color). Like the green anaconda, the reticulated python could potentially live in south Florida as the USGS risk assessment indicates and because of this, it too is listed as a reptile of concern by the State of Florida and the same bio-security rules apply to it as do the anaconda. Once again the State of Florida has taken care of a potential problem. Since the State of Florida has effectively addressed this issue why is it necessary for the Federal government to step in when the species in question cannot inhabit any other area of the continental United States? Once again a nationwide ban is not warranted.

Finally we come to the Boa constrictor. As with the reticulated python there are subspecies of Boa constrictor that need to be taken into consideration. Depending upon which taxonomic source is used there can be 9 subspecies. There is a tremendous size and color variation among this group of snakes. One subspecies, Boa constrictor occidentalis, the Argentine boa is listed as a CITES Appendix 1 animal and cannot be imported into the United States for commercial purposes and any international trade would be limited to the zoological community. This subspecies is only kept in very limited numbers by a small group of individuals. Out of the remaining 8 subspecies, only 3 are readily available in the pet trade and one of those Boa constrictor imperator is widely kept and bred. According to USGS the only areas of potential habitat for Boa constrictor imperator in the continental United States is once again Florida and possibly southern Texas. In the instance of the Deering Estate population of Boa constrictor, in Miami Dade County, they have existed in this park for the past 40 years and have not expanded out of the park. This is the only established population of any Boa constrictor species in the continental United States and it is a surviving population, not a thriving population. This group has shown that it is not able to successfully spread beyond the borders of the park. Quite simply they do not pose a risk to the rest of the country and could be potentially eradicated from such a small geographical area. Its ability to spread has been limited, so why does this group need to be added to the Lacey Act? Again a nationwide ban is not justified.

Restoration of the Everglades is a noble objective which encompasses myriad complex issues. The word restoration is defined as bringing back to a former position or condition. The historical water drainage that formed the Everglades has been altered considerably. Due to this altering it is doubtful that the Everglades will ever truly be restored to what it once was. While one might argue that the Fish and Wildlife Services earlier listing of Burmese pythons has addressed one aspect of Everglades restoration, none of the five non-listed species being considered for addition to the Lacey Act in H.R. 511 are found in the Everglades - adding them would not add to the restoration of the Everglades. I do think that it is also important to note that many of these snakes have been in the private sector for at least 60 years or longer and I am sure that there have been escapees, and a few that have been released here and there by irresponsible owners. However nowhere else in the continental United States have these animals ever established a population, except in Florida and even at that, it was limited to only 2 species in southern Florida.

Adding the anacondas (DeSchauensee’s and Beni) to the Lacey Act would not impact any breeders or dealers at all, adding the green anaconds would affect a small number of breeders and it would impact zoos and others institutions.

Adding reticulated pythons would be devastating to those that bred them across the United States. These breeders, some have spent decades, working with this species to produce smaller and beautifully colored reticulated pythons. Some of these individuals sell for $ 25,000.00 each. While it is true this does not represent a large number of people, these breeders employ others, pay taxes and work hard to produce very desirable specimens for serious hobbyists. This activity has grown in recent years because of the reduced size of reticulated pythons and the great of amazing patterns and colors that have been produced as our understanding of genetics has improved. Today, there are very few normally colored animals produced. Thousands of people across the United States own and responsibly enjoy their reticulated pythons. With the passage of H.R. 511 these people would no longer be able to take their pet with them if they moved from one state to another. Nor could they participate in breeding programs if interstate movement was involved. I simply do not see the benefit of adding these to the Lacey Act since the species have not, nor have shown a propensity to be an invasive species in Florida, let alone other parts of the United States.

Adding the Boa constrictor would be even more devastating to the reptile industry. Boas are produced by the thousands by commercial and non-commercial breeders throughout the United States. There is a tremendous variety of size and color, even among the normally colored specimens. Boas are one of the most commonly kept large constrictor species in the world. We added boas to our collection back in 2000. Conservatively, we have invested a minimum of $300,000 in acquiring our breeding colony. We have invested thousands in caging, supplies and maintenance of our breeding operations. We employ people to work with us, and sell our progeny throughout the United States as well as export animals to other countries


With just the talk of having boas added to the Lacey Act the value of our collection plummeted. Snakes that I had paid $25,000.00 a pair for as babies I could barely sell for $1,500.00 each as a proven breeding animal. Their progeny which had been selling for approximately $7,500.00 each prior to the proposed listing, plummeted to $1,500.00 each if I could find a buyer at all. Sales stagnated. We had to make a very hard business as well as heartbreaking decision. After trying to market our adult boas to other breeders in states that would have been allowed to export the offspring overseas it became apparent that there were no buyers. We even tried to give them away, no luck. We ended up euthanizing over 60 adult boas. We still maintain some boas, but not nearly what we once had and we were considered a medium sized operation.

In assessing the financial loss we incurred, Dan and I figured out the potential production of viable progeny had we been able to keep those breeding animals in- tact. Without augmenting the breeding stock, we conservatively estimated those 60 breeders over their natural breeding lifespan and normal birth rates could have generated approximately $2,000,000 had the market not collapsed in light of the potential nationwide ban.

I do not support H.R. 511. The Fish and Wildlife Service utilizes well established and accepted guidelines that they developed over the years to help them determine if a species is injurious. Adding species to the Lacey Act through legislative fiat completely negates the roll of the Fish and Wildlife Service in determining if a species is injurious. Circumventing the regulatory process by allowing species to be designated “injurious” without going through a science based risk analyses allows very powerful special interests to be able to convince legislators that certain species are harmful when in reality they are not. This is a dangerous precedent.

In conclusion, I remain mystified as to why the Congress believes its scientific analysis should supersede that of the Federal agency they designated to conduct the requisite risk analysis of species that might warrant listing under the Lacy Act. The State of Florida has addressed the issue; it has implemented a comprehensive regulatory process to protect Florida’s interests. A nationwide ban is not warranted and I urge that H. R. 511 not be supported.

Thank you for providing me an opportunity to submit my comments.

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HR511 Weekly Update December 10 : Brady Barr Resident Herpetologist at National Geographic Society

Last week we introduced this weekly series witht the opening statements from Representative John Fleming, M.D. at the Subcommittee Hearing on HR511: To Prohibit the Importation of Various Species of Constrictor Snakes on November 29,2012. Today's testimony is from Brady Barr, Resident Herpetologist at National Geographic Society Testimony on HR 511 bill introduced to add species of snakes to Lacey Act. 



I was compelled to speak out on this issue on a very personal basis. Over the past few years as I saw more and more erroneous and sensationalized stories in popular media concerning pythons in the southern Everglades, I became frustrated knowing the public was being grossly misinformed. I subsequently reached out to the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) to offer what expertise I might lend to the decision making process and to this hearing today. 

I feel that there are two important points that need to be considered in reference to large exotic snakes in the Southern Everglades: 1. climatic controls, 2. biological controls. 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.



Concerning the second point, biological controls; I offer the example of Alligators -- a top predator and keystone species in the Everglades, and one of the largest non-marine predators on the planet. However, populations in the Everglades grow more slowly, are undersized, and take longer to reach sexual maturity, than populations elsewhere. These conditions are likely due in part to a lower food base and poorer quality diet found in the Everglades. The Everglades is tough place to live, especially for large predators. The Everglades in many ways is analogous to a desert, largely because it is a bio mass poor ecosystem. In this respect, alligators have a difficult time finding large prey to consume. I conducted the most comprehensive alligator diet study to date, in Everglades National Park from 1992 - 1997. Flushing the stomachs of over 2000 alligators, and in excess of 600 adults, revealed that snakes are by far the most important prey by mass. Fifty-five percent of consumed prey mass by adult alligators is snakes, that is over half of everything alligators eat in the Everglades is snake. In a prey deficient ecosystem alligators are essentially surviving on snakes in the Everglades. It can logically be inferred that inclusion of a top prey item (snakes) into an already prey deficient system, will result in predation on the introduced exotic species by the alligators of the Everglades, making them not only a keystone species, but also a natural biological control to introduced exotic snakes.

In summary, the climatic controls (low temperatures experienced in Southern Florida) and biological controls, chiefly alligators, among numerous snake predators in the Everglades, will control any population of large exotic snakes in southern Florida, and thereby does not warrant the inclusion of the nine snake species to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act.

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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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RED ALERT: STOP HR511 Python BAN TODAY!

This morning we learned from USARK (United States Association of Reptile Keepers) that Congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL) had introduced HR511, a bill to ammend the Lacey Act (title 18) to prohibit the importation of 9 species of constricting snakes, to the US House of Representatives. Below is the official post from USARK with details on how you can get involved to help protect our jobs, passions, and pets.

 

HR 511, a bill to amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit the importation of various injurious species of constrictor snakes; Indian python, Python molurus, including the Burmese python, Python molurus bivittatus; reticulated python, Broghammerus reticulatus; Northern African python,Python sebae; Southern African python, Python natalensis; Boa constrictor; yellow anaconda, Eunectes notaeus; DeSchauensee’s anaconda, Eunectes deschauenseei; green anaconda, Eunectes murinus; and the Beni anaconda, Eunectes beniensis, in the US House of Representatives, was introduced January 26, 2011 by Congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL) . 

Congressman Rooney has taken action to move HR 511! This bill seeks to add 9 constricting snakes to the Injurious Wildlife List of the Lacey Act. HR 511 has been scheduled for a Markup Hearing before the US House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday February 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM EST.

http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/markups112.html

>>There is very little time to voice opposition to this bill that could devistate the Reptile Community. Please participate in the USARK Call In Campaign TODAY!<<

PHONE CAMPAIGN:

Talking Points:

Will destroy thousands of jobs and small family businesses; $104 million annual economic impact.
Criminalize the actions of over 1 million American Citizens; Lacey Act felons.
Federal action to address a localized problem in South Florida is unnecessary; the State of Florida and US Fish & Wildlife have already taken draconian measures.
Underlying science has been criticized by scientists from around the world.
Creates a massive animal welfare problem, potentially displacing millions of animals.

Key Members of House Judiciary Committee:

Lamar Smith (R-TX)- 202-225-4236
Sensenbrenner (R-WI)- 202-225-5101
Coble (R-NC)- 202-225-3065
Issa (R-CA)- 202-225-3906
Gohmert (R-TX)- 202-225-3035
Chaffetz (R-UT)- 202-225-7751
Gowdy (R-SC)- 202-225-6030
Poe (R-TX)- 202-225-6565
Goodlatte (R-VA)- 202-225-5431

DO IT NOW!!!

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