Orlando Sentinel – Stop the invasion
Let's say a snake, originally imported from another country as a pet,
gets loose and starts breeding in the wilds of Florida.
Under current law, the federal government can declare that species
"injurious," which means it would become illegal to import it. But in
typical bureaucratic fashion, such a declaration can take up to four
years to complete.
By then, the snake has had plenty of time to become well-established
in a place where it doesn't belong.
That's what's happened in the Florida Everglades, where the state is
considering putting a bounty on the thousands of hungry Burmese
pythons now on the loose in the River of Grass, eating rabbits and
even the occasional alligator. Strangely enough, the government has
yet to decide that the Burmese python is "injurious," so U.S. Sen.
Bill Nelson has introduced a bill that would bypass the bureaucracy
and add pythons to the list of banned wildlife.
We're glad Mr. Nelson is on the case, but his measure is way too
little and way too late.
Florida and the rest of the nation need a far more comprehensive law
to stop the invasion of exotic species into natural places.
A proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives is a move in the right
Introduced by a delegate from Guam, where the non-native brown tree
snake has wreaked havoc on native bird populations, the bill would
bring some desperately needed logic to animal-import laws.
Instead of waiting until after a non-native species has gotten out of
control, the species' risks would have to be assessed before it can be
imported into the United States.
This approach might well have saved the Everglades from the python,
the Potomac River from the Chinese snakehead fish, and the Mississippi
River from the Asian carp.
Predictably, those who make big money from importing and selling
exotic wildlife, and who care much less about their products' harm to
the environment, are up in arms. Even by today's low standards, their
campaign is particularly noxious, implying that the feds are going to
kick in doors and wrest away a child's pet gerbil.
No such thing is true. The bill doesn't apply to most domesticated
pets, and people who already own snakes, gerbils and other critters
would be allowed to keep them. They just couldn't breed them or import
more of them until the species' risks for harm were assessed. Even
before that determination is made, the bill allows the government to
include common and domesticated non-native wildlife on a list of
Also dubious is the claim that the U.S. pet industry would collapse.
Please. We doubt the industry will suffer greatly if a few exotic
animals are banned. This is a common scare tactic, one that also
conveniently ignores the billions in economic damage and other costs
from non-native plants and animals.
It's hard to take the exotic-pet industry seriously when it opposes
even Mr. Nelson's modest proposal to ban the import of pythons. The
industry's reasoning? Aside from the Burmese python, other types have
yet to populate in the wild.
Yet. Implying that we should wait until there's another environmental
crisis before doing something.
Florida's Legislature already has shown it doesn't have the stomach
for meaningful controls of exotic species, even in a state where the
warm climate increases the risk from invaders.
That's why Florida's congressional delegation in Washington needs to
get behind a federal law that will get a grip on this growing problem.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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