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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a final rule that will list four species of huge, non-native constrictor snakes as “injurious species” under the federal law that gives the FWS the power to prohibit their importation to the United States and their use in interstate commerce.
In 2010, the FWS proposed rule included the listing of nine species of huge constrictor snakes. The final FWS rule drops five of these species and lists a total of four non-native constrictor snakes as injurious species. The four species that will be listed as injurious are the Burmese python, yellow anaconda, northern African rock python, and southern African rock python.
The five snakes that were dropped from the list finalized by FWS are the reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda.
“While we are pleased that four extremely harmful constrictor species will no longer be allowed into this country, we are disappointed that five of the proposed snakes were not included in the rule,” said Peter Jenkins, spokesperson for the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species (NECIS).
“The snakes that were excluded pose a serious threat to our already fragile ecosystems and to humans. If your boat is leaking, why would you only plug some of the holes?” ”Of the nine species originally proposed three are already found outside of captivity and breeding in the wild in Florida.
Of those three, only two were listed,” said Kristina Serbesoff-King who directs The Nature Conservancy’s Florida Invasive Species Program. “Four of the five that were dropped from the final list have not yet become established in U.S. ecosystems, and that’s the very reason they should be restricted.
We believe this is an important iterative step, but also strongly encourage the FWS to develop regulations aimed at preventing the import of harmful species, rather than trying to close the proverbial barn door after these species have already taken hold within our lands and waters and are virtually impossible to eradicate.”
This rulemaking process initially began in 2006 at the request of the South Florida Water Management District, and, after a lengthy process of agency action and a public comment period, the resulting rule had been awaiting release by the Office of Management and Budget since March 2011.
The Administration was approached by numerous members of Congress from all over the country, both Republicans and Democrats, as well as almost the entire south Florida congressional delegation to encourage the release of the rule.
“A small but vocal sector of the pet industry concerned with importing and breeding these dangerous exotic snakes seems to have put a stranglehold on a sensible rule,” said Dr. Bruce Stein of the National Wildlife Federation. “Unfortunately, when it came to weighing the economic interests of these few breeders against the enormous economic and ecological damage these snakes can cause, the Administration was sold a bottle of snake oil.”
For years the federal government has come under sharp criticism for allowing invasive animal species into the country that have caused major damages to the environment and agriculture, leading to economic costs and environmental and safety risks.
Recent invasions by imported animal species such as the constrictor snakes, Asian carp, and red lionfish are together costing federal, state, and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars annually in efforts to control them. These costs could have been avoided if authorities had considered their risks beforehand and restricted their importation.
“This listing is one step toward limiting the massive flow of harmful species into this country, but the current listing approach doesn’t even come close to keeping up with the 21st century trade of live animals,” said Jenkins. “We are urging Congress and the Administration to advance broader regulatory reforms of the injurious species listing process.”
As a leading import market, the United States receives hundreds of millions of non-native animals each year, which represent thousands of different wildlife species. In practice, very few risk assessments are done before these animals arrive in the country, and the 111-year-old law that gives the FWS regulatory authority to prohibit importation has only 25 entries on the injurious species list.
These species were typically restricted only after years of importation, and damage had already occurred. In contrast, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel require all new animal species to be assessed for the likelihood of invasion before they are allowed into those countries.
“For several years, Congress has considered bills that would modernize our antiquated and broken regulatory system, but the legislation has stalled,” said Jennifer Nalbone, director of Navigation and Invasive Species for Great Lakes United. “Right now, the next damaging invader could be on its way here. All species being proposed for trade into the United States must be screened to weed out the next Burmese python or Asian carp.”