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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Obama Obstructionism: Procrastinating on Pythons

A bipartisan group from Florida’s congressional delegation is calling on President Obama to finalize a long-delayed rule barring the trade in dangerous giant snakes. A letter from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and a House letter led by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-16th,  and co-signed by Reps. David Rivera, R-25th, Ted Deutch, D-19th, Richard Nugent, R-5th, Vern Buchanan, R-13th, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-20th, and Allen West, R-22nd, urge the White House to stop dragging its feet on a rule to add nine species of deadly snakes, including pythons, anacondas, and boa constrictors, to the list of prohibited “injurious species” under the Lacey Act. 

PythonEvery day that goes by, more snakes are dying in the trade, more people are put at risk, there is more destruction of our natural resources because so many of these snakes have been turned loose in the wild, and more money is being wasted trying to control these animals who thrive as invasive species. This policy has been in the works for five years, and has been the subject of much scientific research and public comment.

Here’s the timeline:

  • June 2006: South Florida Water Management District petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the listing of Burmese pythons as injurious under the Lacey Act.

  • January 2008: USFWS published a Notice of Inquiry in the Federal Register asking the public for information on several large constrictor snakes.

  • October 2009: U.S. Geological Survey issued a report finding that large constrictor snakes pose an invasive species risk and threaten the stability of native ecosystems.

  • March 2010: USFWS issued a proposed rule to list nine large constrictor snakes as injurious under the Lacey Act.

  • March 2011: The White House Office of Management and Budget/Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs received the final rule from USFWS (the review process is usually 90 days).

As Sen. Nelson wrote: “The rule was sent to OMB nearly nine months ago. In total, the rulemaking process has taken almost five years and in that time, over 100,000 more giant constrictor snakes have entered the U.S. And until these animals are listed as injurious, they will continue to flow into the country unabated. Further delay is unacceptable and the consequences could be lethal.”

Rep. Rooney and the House members added, “In addition to the safety threats and havoc the snakes are inflicting, there is a very real economic impact of their invasion. We are spending billions of dollars to restore the Everglades and if additional invasive snakes are allowed to establish themselves, the native wildlife will be decimated. Our local water management district, the State of Florida, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Everglades National Park have already dedicated time and resources to eradicating these invasive snakes. Their funding and ability to continue eradication programs, while still performing their core missions, would be unsustainable.”

It begs the question: What’s the hold up? There should be no lingering doubts about the merits of this policy, especially after a two-year-old toddler was killed by a pet python, and adult deer are being gulped down whole by snakes in the wild. Nearly every major newspaper in Florida has weighed in urging the White House to stop delaying the snake rule, including the Gainesville Sun, Lakeland Ledger, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and Tallahassee Democrat.

But officials in the Obama administration appear to be weak-kneed simply because they’ve been hearing some complaints from the reptile industry lobby—the very people who have cost the nation hundreds of millions of dollars, given the government control efforts that have been initiated, and have peddled high-maintenance dangerous predators at flea markets, swap meets, and over the Internet to unqualified people. It’s much more humane and fiscally responsible to deal with the problem on the front end through prevention. Why should U.S. taxpayers shoulder the financial burden for a few people who make selfish and reckless decisions?

Some observers believe the python industry lobbyists are not the only ones peddling influence at the White House to kill agency proposals. As Ari Shapiro reported this week on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” a new study says OIRA “has served as a killing ground for protective rules” and that President Obama is watering down or undoing more proposed agency regulations than his predecessor did. 

When it comes to dangerous giant snakes, we can’t let politics trump science or animal welfare. Please take action today and urge the White House to finalize the rule to stop the importation and interstate movement of these deadly snakes as pets. Enough is enough, and we must move forward without delay.


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