The House Judiciary Committee tomorrow is scheduled to vote on H.R. 511, a bill introduced by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., to add nine species of large constrictor snakes to the list of injurious species under the Lacey Act. This important bipartisan legislation would ban the import or interstate trade for use as pets of the Indian python (including Burmese python), reticulated python, Northern African python, Southern African python, boa constrictor, green anaconda, yellow anaconda, DeSchauensee's anaconda, and Beni anaconda. The bill addresses the trade in nine species identified in a 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing “high” or “medium” risk of becoming established in the wild in the United States as invasive species, and potentially threatening native wildlife and costing the government millions of dollars to address.
In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to ban these nine species of large constrictor snakes identified by the USGS report as posing significant risk. In January 2012, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a final rule restricting trade in just four of the nine species—a helpful step, but one covering just 30 percent of imports of the nine species posing a significant risk to the environment. By including only some species, the trade will simply shift to the other species—including boa constrictors and reticulated pythons which represent two-thirds of the trade, and boa constrictors identified as posing “high” risk—and the threats to public safety, animal welfare, and the environment will continue uninterrupted. That’s the principle reason Congress needs to take action and enact H.R. 511.
While the administration’s rule addressed four of the nine species, the USGS report noted that all nine species present ecological risk, concluding the following (emphasis added): "High-risk species are Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons, boa constrictors, and yellow anacondas. High-risk species, if established in this country, put larger portions of the U.S. mainland at risk, constitute a greater ecological threat, or are more common in trade and commerce. Medium-risk species were reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda. These species constitute lesser threats in these areas, but still are potentially serious threats. Because all nine species share characteristics associated with greater risks, none was found to be low-risk."
The ecological havoc wrought by invasive snakes is worse than anyone anticipated. A January 2012 report by researchers with the National Academy of Sciences found that Burmese pythons, in a little more than a decade of colonizing the Everglades, have wiped out 99 percent of raccoons, opossums, and other small and medium-sized mammals, and 87 percent of bobcats. A great American ecosystem has been put at grave risk because of this invasive species. By having such an impact, it will inevitably harm the ability of Florida panthers, one of the most endangered animals in our nation, to survive. We must act now in order to prevent large constricting snakes from colonizing other ecosystems and having such a devastating impact on them, too.
It’s not only biologically reckless, but fiscally reckless, too. The U.S. Department of Interior expected to spend $100 million in 2011 controlling invasive species, including the pythons breeding wild in Florida. We must prevent these problems from developing in the first place, and not spend taxpayer dollars to clean up problems we should have anticipated. It’s fiscally reckless to allow these impacts to continue.
Additionally, the threats to public safety, and to the welfare of the snakes themselves in the trade, call for a comprehensive response. Constrictor snakes have killed 15 people in the United States, including seven children, with reticulated pythons accounting for the largest share of attacks. The tragic death of a Florida toddler in 2009 put a fine point on why the private ownership of these animals is just not worth the risk of children or adults being killed by them. Passage of this legislation would spare thousands of animals the suffering and neglect of the exotic animal trade. These animals die during collection, transport, trade, and in private ownership. Many people who acquire them know little about proper care or housing for these animals.
The reptile trade opposed listing any of these species as injurious under the Lacey Act. We’ve seen the effect of their obstructionism, and it can be found in the depopulation of native wildlife from the Everglades, which our nation has invested billions of dollars to protect. The economic impact analysis by the reptile industry is wildly exaggerated and false, and these are the very people who have created the problem and have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The House Judiciary Committee, and the full Congress, should act favorably on H.R. 511 and adopt this science-based and fiscally responsible policy for conservation, animal welfare, and public safety.
If you live in one of the districts of the House Judiciary Committee members, please be sure to call them today and ask them to support H.R. 511:
Sandy Adams, R-Fla., 24th District (202) 225-2706
Mark Amodei, R-Nev., 2nd District (202) 225-6155
Howard Berman, D-Calif., 28th District (202) 225-4695
Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, 1st District (202) 225-2216
Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, 3rd District (202) 225-7751
Judy Chu, D-Calif., 32nd District (202) 225-5464
Howard Coble, R-N.C., 6th District (202) 225-3065
Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., 9th District (202) 225-3265
John Conyers Jr. (Ranking Member), D-Mich., 14th District (202) 225-5126
Ted Deutch, D-Fla., 19th District (202) 225-3001
J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., 4th District (202) 225-6365
Trent Franks, R-Ariz., 2nd District (202) 225-4576
Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., 24th District (202) 225-5811
Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, 1st District (202) 225-3035
Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., 6th District (202) 225-5431
Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., 4th District (202) 225-6030
Tim Griffin, R-Ark., 2nd District (202) 225-2506
Darrell Issa, R-Calif., 49th District (202) 225-3906
Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, 18th District (202) 225-3816
Hank Johnson, D-Ga., 4th District (202) 225-1605
Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, 4th District (202) 225-2676
Steve King, R-Iowa, 5th District (202) 225-4426
Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., 16th District (202) 225-3072
Dan Lungren, R-Calif., 3rd District (202) 225-5716
Tom Marino, R-Pa., 10th District (202) 225-3731
Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., 8th District (202) 225-5635
Mike Pence, R-Ind., 6th District (202) 225-3021
Pedro Pierluisi, D-Puerto Rico (202) 225-2615
Ted Poe, R-Texas, 2nd District (202) 225-6565
Jared Polis, D-Colo., 2nd District (202) 225-2161
Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., 3rd District (202) 225-3361
Mike Quigley, D-Ill., 5th District (202) 225-4061
Dennis Ross, R-Fla., 12th District (202) 225-1252
Linda Sánchez, D-Calif., 39th District (202) 225-6676
Bobby Scott, D-Va., 3rd District (202) 225-8351
Jim Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., 5th District (202) 225-5101
Lamar Smith (Chairman), R-Texas, 21st District (202) 225-4236
Maxine Waters, D-Calif., 35th District (202) 225-2201
Mel Watt, D-N.C., 12th District (202) 225-1510