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Senator Bill Nelson...

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Posted by: EricWI at Sun Nov 27 08:20:40 2011  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by EricWI ]  

Bill Nelson's effort to ban interstate python trade concerns Fla. wildlife officials

The good intentions of Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to help control the invasion of Burmese pythons in the Everglades has Florida wildlife officials slightly cringing.

Nelson sent a single-page letter to President Obama on Thursday urging him to speed up the process for including the Burmese python and five other pythons roaming around South Florida on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's list of injurious species. That would trigger a ban on the import and interstate trade of the giant constrictors.

"These dangerous snakes have killed people including an innocent child, devoured endangered species and most recently, a Burmese python consumed a 76-pound adult deer," Nelson wrote in the letter. "Further delay is unacceptable and the consequences could be fatal."

While wildlife officials are all for eradicating the wild snakes, they say the unintended consequences of banning the import and interstate trade could lead to even more of the snakes being dumped in the wild by shady dealers stuck with an inventory of worthless snakes.

"We certainly have a concern, in the event they are put on the injurious list, of what would happen to the inventory of the commercial guys," said Scott Hardin, exotic species coordinator at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "We have seen cases when animals go on the injurious list and then all of a sudden you find them in the wrong place."

Last year Florida dealers and breeders lost much of their in-state business when it became illegal to acquire the six species of pythons as pets after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission listed them as a conditional species.

Floridians who already owned pet pythons could keep them, but only reptile dealers, researchers and public exhibitors could apply for a permit to import or possess new pythons.

If pythons are further regulated and placed on the federal injurious species list, commercial dealers and breeders will not be able to sell and ship their snakes to buyers in other states, leaving them to figure out how to dispose of their pythons.

While most dealers are "trying to do the right thing," and would not release their snakes in the wild, "it certainly could happen with some of the marginal dealers," Hardin said.

David Barkasy and his wife, Katie Barkasy, are license dealers who have been selling reptiles for more than 20 years. Although the Barkasys do not breed pythons, they said their business in Myakka City would take at least a 10 percent hit if they cannot buy, sell and ship pythons out of Florida.

"Nationwide this is going to affect a lot of people," Barkasy said. "It's going to have a big impact."

As for dealers' inventory of pythons, if the injurious designation goes into effect, some will let them go in the wild and others will kill them, Barkasy said.

The FWC has no plans for getting rid of the dealers' unwanted snakes. The fate of the pythons "wouldn't be within our purview necessarily," Hardin said.

However, the commission does host non-native pet amnesty days, which allow pet owners to surrender their non-native amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, invertebrates and reptiles at specific locations throughout the state at no charge and with no penalties.

Since the first pythons were spotted in the wild in Florida in the 1980s, captures, hunting and escapes have grabbed headlines around the world. Although the exact number of pythons in the wild is not known, the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated between 5,000 and 100,000 in the Everglades.

The South Florida Water Management District petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to include the Burmese python as an injurious wildlife species in June 2006. As the district waited for approval, the number of pythons captured rose dramatically, from 170 in 2006 to 367 in 2009.

The district's petition went to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which held public hearings and developed a draft rule. The draft rule went to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, where it has sat for nearly nine months.

"In total, the rule-making process has taken almost five years and in that time, over 100,000 more giant constrictor snakes have entered the U.S.," Nelson wrote. "And until these animals are listed as injurious, they will continue to flow into the country unabated."

But the injurious listing could also encourage smuggling and illegal sales.

"A well-regulated trade is preferable to a black market," Hardin said. "We hope we can have conservation with flexibility and that it is equitable."

Are efforts to get rid of the snakes working? Hardin believes freezing temperatures earlier this year killed many snakes.

The more aggressive African Rock python is nearly 95 percent eradicated, he said.

"There are fewer pythons than there were three years ago," Hardin said. "I think we really have gotten better about knowing where to look.",0,1317852.story


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