Florida lawmakers want more giant snakes banned


Eighteen representatives signed a bipartisan letter sent Monday to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add boa constrictors, reticulated pythons and three species of anacondas to the ban.

Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and northern and southern African pythons were declared injurious species under the Lacey Act in 2012. That prohibits anyone from importing the snakes to the U.S. or transporting them across state lines.

The wildlife service has failed to take action over the past two years to ban the five other exotic snake species, which represent most of the trade in large constrictor snakes, the letter said.

The snakes pose an "unacceptable and preventable risk" to human safety, the letter said.

"Additionally, these highly adaptable, invasive snakes have severely damaged precious native ecosystems, as we have seen with the Burmese python's decimation of mammal populations in the Florida Everglades, and the boa constrictor's displacement of native reptiles in Puerto Rico," the letter said. "We cannot afford to risk the introduction of additional invasive species that will be expensive and difficult to eradicate."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Ken Warren wrote in an email that the agency appreciates the lawmakers' interest.

"We're working toward a final decision on the remaining five large constrictor snakes, which is pending," Warren wrote.

According to a federal lawsuit filed in December by the North Carolina-based United State Association of Reptile Keepers, an initial proposal to ban all nine snake species cost the reptile industry tens of millions of dollars. Buyers didn't want to spend money on pets they might not be able to move to another state, and some of the association's members euthanized brood stock they couldn't care for in an evaporating market.

Five snake species eventually were dropped from the ban, but they remain under consideration.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn the existing ban, arguing that it's a one-size-fits-all approach to a problem that primarily affects South Florida. In response, the wildlife service said the ban helps prevent non-native snakes from spreading and protects native wildlife.

Florida's population of Burmese pythons, which are native to India and other parts of Asia, likely developed from pets let loose either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

The lawmakers who signed the letter include six representatives from Florida, the delegates from Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands and the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico.

Florida law prohibits the possession or sale of Burmese pythons and southern or northern African pythons, among other large non-native snakes not included in the federal ban, for use as pets.

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