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Wed December 5, 2012
Congressmen Fail To Get A Tight Grasp On Python Bill
A bill that should help fix Florida's python problem is slipping out of the hands of lawmakers in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, has been trying to get legislation passed that would broaden a ban on invasive species in the U.S. In effect, the bill would slow down a recent influx of invasive snakes taking over the Everglades in Florida.
The expanded ban sets its sights specifically on importing, buying or selling Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons and yellow anacondas.
However, several members of Congress don't see why they should pass this national ban, since it is mostly a Florida problem. That makes the chances of this bill passing pretty slim.
Opponents cited evidence that these snakes die in cold weather and cannot move farther north to threaten other parts of the country. They said a nationwide ban on importation and interstate sales would thwart pet owners and pinch the livelihoods of sellers and breeders.
"Florida is handling a Florida problem that only exists in Florida," U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-La., chairman of the House subcommittee on fisheries and wildlife, told witnesses at a hearing on Thursday.
The chairman mocked testimony that Burmese pythons have rebounded from cold snaps, have killed several young children and could thrive in parts of Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and semitropical U.S. territories. He also dismissed warnings that global warming will increase the range of deadly snakes and other invasive species.
"I think the worry, the threat, that in the next few years we're going to have reptiles on our doorsteps in Washington, D.C., is a little overblown," Fleming said.
There are currently thousands of these snakes running amok in the Everglades, experts have warned. Environmentalists are also worried that the presence of these snakes, which have few natural predators in the Everglades, are setting back expensive restoration efforts. Environmental groups like the Florida Audubon Society have backed Rooney's bill.
Reptile breeders all over the country, however, are insisting that Florida should deal with this problem on its own and not make it a nationwide ban.
Leading the force against Rooney's ban is U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, and the reptile breeding lobby. Breeders are worried this law could destroy their industry if it passes.
According to a Bloomberg article from last year, reptile breeders already have a guy in Washington looking out for laws like this.
Andrew Wyatt, a former snake breeder, said he is paid $80,000 a year by the reptile breeders’ association. The group also hired New York-based Kelley Drye & Warren LLP in April to help make its case to Congress and the Obama administration. The law firm registered as lobbyists on the snake issue and was paid $10,000 in the second quarter, according to Senate records.
This bill, if it does pass, would not deal with the thousands of snakes already in the Everglades.
Dispatches From The Swing State