Category Archives: General News

FWS Seeks “Categorical Exclusion” to Expedite Injurious Listing

FWS Seeks Catagorical Exclusion for Injurious Wildlife
FWS Seeks Categorical Exclusion for Injurious Wildlife Listing

US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a notice on July 1, 2013 of a proposal to add a “categorical exclusion” under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the action of listing a species as “injurious wildlife” under the Lacey Act entitled:  National Environmental Policy Act:  Implementing Procedures; Addition to Categorical Exclusions for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

FWS Summary: This notice announces a proposed categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The proposed categorical exclusion pertains to adding species to the injurious wildlife list under the Lacey Act. FWS states that the addition of this categorical exclusion to the Department of the Interior’s Departmental Manual will improve conservation activities by making the NEPA process for listing injurious species more efficient.

US Herpetoculture Alliance: Our legal counsel is currently doing a thorough analysis of the proposed “categorical exclusion”, but we believe that this is an attempt to circumvent due process in order to more easily list reptiles, amphibians and other animals as “injurious species” under the Lacey Act.

US Herpetoculture Alliance The Future of Herpetoculture
US Herpetoculture Alliance
The Future of Herpetoculture

In recent years FWS has shown a clear bias toward avoiding due process in order to reach politically motivated goals. In this “brave new world” where FWS seems to manufacture “science” to support predetermined policy goals, the US Herpetoculture Alliance sees this move as a further corruption of the process to avoid assessing potential impacts on herpetoculture as a legitimate agricultural vocation.

This is a particularly disturbing development in light of the fact that FWS has made it clear that they hope to add more herpetofauna to the injurious list. As it stands the future of five constricting snakes and ALL amphibians stand in the balance. Prior to the 2012 rule making that added Burmese pythons, northern African pythons, southern African pythons and yellow anacondas there was no precedent for adding animals widely held by the American public. The fact that hundreds of thousands of animals are already being publicly held across the country negates the fundamental effectiveness of the Lacey Act to limit proliferation.

The Lacey Act’s stated policy intent was to stop the import of injurious species, and further stop proliferation across state lines. This function is rendered ineffectual once animals are widely held by the public. The Lacey Act is a monumental failure as a tool to control invasive species. It’s track record speaks for itself. The Lacey Act has NEVER been successful as a tool to stop the introduction of invasive species, nor erradicate them once they have been established. The US Herpetoculture Alliance believes alternatives to the Lacey Act are critical to the fair treatment of herpetofauna already well established in captivity.

The notice opens a 30-day public comment period ending on July 31 (please see Federal Register for instructions on submitting comments)

Here is the link:to the Federal Register document: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-07-01/pdf/2013-15707.pdf

Please stay tuned to the US Herpetoculture Alliance UPDATES for in depth analysis of this issue COMING SOON! The Herp Alliance is proud to keep the herpetoculture community informed and empowered as the premier herpetoculture advocate. Herp Alliance is the Future of Herpetoculture!

Herp Alliance Hits 10,000 Facebook Likes!

1-Logos_Revised_2_COLOR-002On April 23, 2013, Herp Alliance, with your help, passed a milestone since our inception in late December 2012:  in just four months on Facebook, we received over 10,000 likes.

Founded by a small and tightly-knit group of individuals, we have tried to hit the ground running to help protect herpetoculture from an ever-encroaching animal rights industry, to help conserve reptiles and amphibians through captive propagation, to protect science and education involving these magnificent animals, to promote high quality captive breeding, and of course, to preserve the ability of individuals to keep their cherished pets.

Early in the year, we engaged Frank Vitello, of Vitello Consulting, to assist us at the federal level, and Frank has delivered in abundance with our legal strategy, outreach, and connections to help protect against additional bans on the keeping of reptiles as well as seeking closure to the Lacey Act Rule Change that went into effect in 2012.

The 2013 legislative season is not yet over.  Since January, the Herp Alliance team has accomplished the following:

  • Herp Alliance was the first to initiate closure on the python rule to remove the 5 remaining species of constrictors from consideration under the Lacey Act.
  • We issued an Action Alert that has generated nearly 700 letters to President Obama urging Secretary Salazar to close the Constrictor Rule before leaving office and Herp Alliance sent our own.
  • We broke the news and took the lead on opposing HR 996, Representative Louise Slaughter’s proposed Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act.
  • Herp Alliance president, Andrew Wyatt, together with our DC consultant, Frank Vitello, visited Washington DC in March and met with Speaker John Boehner, Senator Bill Nelson’s Chief of Staff, Pete Mitchell, Senator Marco Rubio’s staff, Chairman Darrel Issa’s House Oversight Committee staff, Ranking Member David Vitter’s Senate EPW staff, Chairman Doc Hastings’ House Natural Resources Committee Staff Director Harry Burroughs, and others to raise awareness of herpetoculture’s most pressing federal concerns.
  • We learned of HSUS’s push to President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to finalize the ‘Constrictor Rule’ and to add 5 additional species to the constrictor rule of the Lacey Act and we exclusively brought that news to you.
  • We learned that learned that Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) would introduce his own version of the ‘Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act’ (HR 669 from 111th Congress) in this session and brought that news to you along with the first “discussion draft” of his bill.
  • We broke the news on ballot initiatives in Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Connecticut and immediately issued action alerts to challenge those bills.
  • With over 400 letters sent to committee members in Connecticut, we engaged in that state with you until the ban on boas and Burmese pythons was killed in committee.
  • As a result of the incredible efforts of Jared Watts and VIIPER, outstanding ground support in Virginia and Andrew Wyatt’s involvement and influence in the Virginia Dangerous Animals Initiative, together we defeated Virginia SB 477 and HB 1242.
  • Along with West Virginia Reptile Watch and its leaders Joe Perdue and Greg Stephens, together with approximately 500 letters from our supporters, Herp Alliance engaged in West Virginia against SB 466 and HB 2209 and both bills died in committee without moving forward.
  • We engaged in Wilson County, Texas, with Jason Royer and Dave Barker, where Andrew Wyatt proposed a ‘policy solution’ that ultimately reversed ordinance 1998-1 banning constricting and venomous snakes.
  • We have reviewed in excess of 550 state level bills for their potential impact on herpetoculture.
  • In all states with open legislation, we remain actively engaged and hypervigilant.

It has been a busy first four months, but we are not tired yet.  The reptile community has been sharply divided and politicized for some time.  For those of you who have had the faith in us to give us your support on Facebook, on the forums and in emails, we thank you.  For those of you who have contributed financially to our cause, we thank you.  And for those of you who have sent letters, made phone calls and taken direct action to help fight for herpetoculture, we thank you most of all.

Andrew, Kim, Doug and I appreciate all that you have done.  We are in this fight for you and with you, and we are not going away anytime soon!

 

Herp Alliance Initiates Closure on Python Rule

In early March 2013 the US Herpetoculture Alliance was made aware that there was a push being led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to garner support from environmental groups to pressure the Obama Administration to get Interior Secretary Salazar to finalize the “Constrictor Rule” by adding the five constricting snakes that “remain under consideration” to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act as one of his “last acts” prior to his imminent resignation.

Since that time the Herp Alliance has confirmed through contacts  at the Senate sealEnvironmental and Public Works Committee that the HSUS effort was not successful, and Secretary Salazar will NOT finalize the rule with the additional five constrictor snakes as one his last acts in office. However, Herp Alliance has also learned that US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) plans to move toward finalization of the rule in Summer 2013. As a preemptive measure the Herp Alliance has filed a request for regulatory review with the White House Office of Management and Budget based on a “regulatory uncertainty” costing American herpetoculture hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to a de-facto listing. The Herp Alliance has requested that FWS adhere to it’s own mandate of “retrospective review” and withdraw all five species from consideration for listing.

The listing of any of the five remaining species would conflict with at least four of the directives in two executive orders. The agencies are required to “adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that its benefits justify its costs.” There would be no environmental or other benefits to most areas of the U.S., where even FWS concedes that the five constrictor snakes cannot establish populations because of harsh winter conditions. Two executive orders require an agency to “tailor its regulations to impose the least burden on society, consistent with obtaining regulatory objectives, taking into account…the costs of cumulative regulations.” Further, an agency must “identify and assess available alternatives to direct regulation, including, providing economic incentives to encourage the desired behavior…or providing information upon which choices can be made by the public.” FWS has failed on all accounts.

Finally, there is no doubt that the US Geological Survey report (USGS) (“Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Nine Large Species of Pythons, Anacondas, and the Boa Constrictor”) commissioned by FWS as the scientific basis for the rule making was not a peer reviewed article, accepted and published in a scientific journal. It was an internally generated report. Since that time, there has been a growing body of evidence published in numerous scientific journals that confirms that the conclusions reached by USGS were not well supported by research and the data. Quite to the contrary, the work that has been done by others calls into question the underlying climate data used by the USGS, and the conclusions that were reached based on this erroneous data set. Papers published in scientific journals by experts from USDA Wildlife Services, the University of Florida and the University of Alabama conclude that the climate predictions made by the USGS with regard to the ability of a small and isolated population of pythons in sub-tropical south Florida to survive in the more temperate climate of central and north Florida are limited by the cold, and USGS projections for spread over the southern third of the US are highly exaggerated.

Andrew Wyatt, CEO US Herpetoculture Alliance
Andrew Wyatt, CEO US Herpetoculture Alliance

This strategy of seeking closure on the python rule by removing “regulatory uncertainty” is one that began last month when Herp Alliance CEO, Andrew Wyatt, met with top lawmakers and committee staff at the Senate Environmental and Public Works and House Natural Resources. Without the high level support Herp Alliance has developed this strategy would not have been as effective. Together with our allies on Capitol Hill and our crack legal team, we have fielded the best possible plan to remove the “regulatory uncertainty” that continues to surround the five constricting snakes that “remain under consideration” by FWS.

“A retrospective review in order to remove regulatory uncertainty is the best opportunity for herpetoculture to remove the five constricting snakes from consideration and close the door on the FWS Constrictor Rule”. ~ Andrew Wyatt, CEO Herp Alliance

To read Herp Alliance filing with OMB click here.

 

 

Herpetoculture Victorious in Texas!

Wilson_courthouseThe small county of Wilson in central Texas was the scene of a solid victory for herpetoculture. The US Herpetoculure Alliance provided the herpers of Wilson County with a ‘policy solution’ that ultimately reversed ordinance 1998-1 banning constricting and venomous snakes. All exotic constrictors and venomous snakes are once again legal in Wilson County, Texas.

As a local business man and Wilson County resident, Jason Royer became the face of Wilson County herpers. Jason did an exemplary job of appealing to the commissioners’ sense of fair play by clearly articulating the incongruity of the ordinance and securing a commitment to be heard on the issue at the next commissioners meeting.

Bonnie and Randall Berry helped facilitate a grass roots letter writing campaign to support the interests of Wilson County herpers. At the commissioners meeting, Jason received additional support from the expert testimony of Dr. Tim Tristan, Dave Barker and Pete Mimikos. These experts were able to dispel the misinformation that had laid the foundation for the original ordinance and provided strong scientific basis to make sound decisions going forward. The Wilson County Commissioners received the herpers well and agreed to reconsider the ordinance.

The following week, Wilson County Commissioners gave approval for the Herp Alliance to write a proposal for amending the county ordinance. The draft proposal was submitted by Jason Royer and met with general approval. The Commissioners did ask that the Herp Alliance add a clause that all Texas Parks & Wildlife ‘controlled exotic snake’ permit holders submit a copy of their permits to the Sheriff’s Department. US Herp Alliance CEO, Andrew Wyatt, requested that a vote be scheduled on the proposed amendment with the County Clerks office. Wyatt then flew to Texas to personally present the proposal and answer questions for the Wilson County Commissioners. Subsequently the Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the proposal as law in Wilson County. All exotic constrictors and venomous snakes are once again legal in Wilson County Texas.

The US Herpetoculture Alliance is the most effective advocate for the interests of herpetoculture at the local, state and federal levels.

Herp Alliance Amendment Wilson County Ordinance 1998-1

 

A Legal Pet In Its Enclosure Is Not Newsworthy – Unless You’re in Chicago

Python

On March 12, 2013, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart issued a press release  reporting that a 3-foot Burmese python had been found in a Chicago apartment during an eviction enforcement.  This story was then carried by multiple news agencies, including the Chicago Tribune and ABC.

The snake was in its glass aquarium in a bedroom.

However, it was not a python at all, but a simple corn snake, common in the pet industry, non-venomous, virtually harmless to humans, and legal to own.  Even if it had been a 3-foot Burmese python, it would have been legal in the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago to own one.

The snake was reported as found in its aquarium. It was not loose. No human injuries. No animal injuries.

The City of Chicago had 435 homicides in 2012 and there were 62 homicides in the City of Chicago from January 1, 2013 through March 6, 2013 alone.

So the real story here is that a legal pet was found in its enclosure during an eviction.  Why is that newsworthy?

Chicago residents should be asking themselves that question and thinking hard about why Sheriff Dart, part of Chicago’s political machine, would be sensationalizing an event in a press release that is equivalent to his deputies having found a hamster left behind in its cage in the wake of an eviction.

Reconstructive Surgery for Injured Crocodile at Kovai Zoo, India

The mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) (literally "crocodile of the marsh"), also called the Indian, Indus, Persian, or marsh crocodile, is found throughout the Indian subcontinent and the surrounding countries.
The mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) (literally “crocodile of the marsh”), also called the Indian, Indus, Persian, or marsh crocodile, is found throughout the Indian subcontinent and the surrounding countries.

March 2013.

A female crocodile at the Coimbatore VOC Zoo, which lost a portion of its lower jaw three years ago, is all set to undergo reconstruction surgery.

The mugger crocodile was brought to the zoo from the Amaravathi Dam, near Udumalpet, in 1987.  It was severely injured by other crocodiles and was unable to eat properly, causing its growth to be stunted.

Zoo director Dr. Asokan said experts from the Crocodile Specialists Group, Hong Kong, were contacted for consult. No similar procedure has been performed in India and the zoo authorities also consulted human dentists for input.

Dr. Rajkumar, a Coimbatore-based dentist, and Dr.  Senthil, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, developed a plan to fix titanium plates onto the lower jaw of the crocodile with screws.

“Titanium is biocompatible, which means that it is non-toxic, and will not be rejected by the body,” said Dr. Senthil.  Tissues located around the jaw of the crocodile will be grafted over the plate, he said.

“The plates will be able to withstand the pressure when the crocodile chews. When the crocodile bites, the pressure will be equal to 5,000 pounds of weight bearing down,” he said.

The crocodile will be kept in isolation after the surgery for a few months to allow it to heal.

“The plates will have to be specially designed. The surgery will take around three to four hours, and we hope to do it soon,” said Dr. Rajkumar.

The procedure is not without risk. Colin James Stevenson, director of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, said a similar surgery attempted in the United States was not successful.

“There are not many cases where such surgery has been done. We will have to see how the crocodile responds to the surgery,” he said.

US HR 576 and Conservation Through Captive Breeding

On February 6, 2013, U.S. Representative Steve Stockman (R-Texas) introduced House Resolution 576, which was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources.

Although not related to herpetofauna, HR 576 recognizes that, “Captive breeding programs are an essential part of re-establishing endangered species populations.”  It further recognizes that, “Banning the hunting of an unendangered species in the United States actually places overseas endangered populations in danger of extinction by removing any incentive to breed and maintain them.”

Gazella_Dama_2006_09b
Dama Gazelle

A biologist and executive director of the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, tells The Houston Chronicle, ‘In this instance, Texas ranchers have done an astonishing job of rebuilding three species of African antelope, one of which is extinct in the wild. When it comes to saving a species, government on its own cannot save those species. The private sector has to get involved.’  (HR 576 at ¶ 4.)  (Emphasis added)

HR 576 was proposed in response to opposition from an animal rights group seeking to ban the hunting of certain species of antelopes and gazelles.

Herpetoculture needs to bring this kind of reasoned thinking to our animals.  We applaud Rep. Stockman on resisting animal rights propaganda and on the introduction of HR 576.

Conservation Through Captive Breeding ~ Herp Alliance

DNA tests show Lonesome George may not have been last of his species

DNA analysis discovered 17 hybrid tortoises which can trace ancestry to Chelonoidis abingdoni, the species thought to have gone extinct with the death of Lonesome George this summer. The age of some of the hybrids found on a remote island in the Galapagos suggests that there may be purebred individuals still alive on a remote part of Isabela Island.  

When the giant tortoise Lonesome George died this summer, conservationists from around the world mourned the extinction his species. However, a genetic analysis by Yale University researchers of tortoises living in a remote area of a Galapagos Island suggests individuals of the same tortoise species may still be alive — perhaps ancestors of tortoises thrown overboard by 19thcentury sailors.

The study was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

On the remote northern tip of Isabella Island, the Yale team collected DNA from more than 1,600 giant tortoises and discovered that 17 were ancestors of the species Chelonoidis abingdoni, native to Pinta Island of which Lonesome George was the last known survivor. The 17 tortoises are hybrids, but evidence suggested a few might be the offspring of a purebred C. abingdoni parent. Five of these tortoises are juveniles, which suggested to researchers that purebred individuals of the species may still live on the rocky cliffs of Isabella in an area called Volcano Wolf.

“Our goal is to go back this spring to look for surviving individuals of this species and to collect hybrids,” said Adalgisa “Gisella” Caccone, senior research scientist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and senior author on the study. “We hope that with a selective breeding program, we can reintroduce this tortoise species to its native home.”

Volcano Wolf where DNA samples were collected is 37 miles away from Pinta Island. Scientists do not believe ocean currents could have carried giant tortoises to Isabella Island. They note that Volcano Wolf is next to Banks Bay, where in the 19th century sailors of naval and whaling vessels discarded giant tortoises collected from other islands when they were no longer needed for food. A previous genetic analysis of these same tortoises had discovered tortoises with genetic ancestry of C. elephantopus, a species from Floreana Island that had been hunted to extinction in its home range. The members of these marooned tortoise species then mated with indigenous tortoises, researchers suggest.

Yale and the Galapagos Conservancy hope to collect hybrids and any surviving members of both Pinta and Floreana Island species and begin a captive breeding program that would restore both species. The Conservancy, Galapagos National Park, National Geographic Society, The Eppley foundation, The Paul and Bay Foundation and the Turtle Conservation Fund supported the research.

“These giant tortoises are of crucial importance to the ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, and the reintroduction of these species will help preserve their evolutionary legacy,” said Danielle Edwards, postdoctoral research associate at Yale and lead author on the study.

Other Yale authors of the study were Edgar Benavides, Ryan C. Garrick, Kristin B. Dion, and Chaz Hyseni.

Source:  By Bill HathawayReprinted from Yale News, November 15, 2012

150 Million Year Old Frog Discovered in 2003

Nasikabatrachus_sahyadrensis

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

Discovered in 2003, this is a living fossil. It is believed to have split up from other frogs about 150 million years ago and has not changed much since. Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, the prehistoric purple frog (sometimes called the pignose frog), a “squat, grumpy blob”, was discovered in India. Although the adult frog was formally described in October 2003, the taxon was recognized much earlier by its tadpole, which had been described in 1918.

With its closest relatives in the Seychelles, Nasikabatrachus is thought to have evolved separately for millennia. Its discovery also adds to the evidence that Madagascar and the Seychelles separated from the Indian landmass sometime well after the breakup of Gondwana had started.There are no close relatives for this frog, which is said to feel  like a big bag of jelly

Purple frogs spend 50 weeks per year buried underground. explaining, in part, its late discovery. Biologists have described N. sahyadrensis as “a living fossil” because in some ways, it resembles some of the earliest frogs known.

 

Texas Legislature Recognizes 2013 Year of the Snake

yearofsnake stamp

H.R. No. 326
R E S O L U T I O N

WHEREAS, Many Asian American residents of the Lone Star State are celebrating the joyous occasion of the Lunar New Year on February 10, 2013; and

WHEREAS, This special holiday marks the commencement of the Year of the Snake and ushers in the spring season, a new beginning, when the Asian community reflects on the past and makes plans for the future; and

WHEREAS, The snake is considered a symbol of good luck, as ancient wisdom suggests that finding a snake in the house is an omen that the family within will never starve; many in the Asian community believe that the Year of the Snake will be a time of prosperity and peace; and

WHEREAS, The Lunar New Year, known as Tet in the Vietnamese community and as the Spring Festival in the Chinese community, begins on the first day of the first lunar month of the year; the exact date changes annually, falling somewhere between the end of January and the middle of February, but the festive spirit of the season remains constant; and

WHEREAS, The eve of the holiday’s three-day festival is spent cleaning houses and ancestral graves and preparing a ceremonial meal; the Lunar New Year traditionally serves as a time to reunite with family members, renew special friendships, and remember past experiences, in preparation for good things to come; and

WHEREAS, The Asian community plays a vital role in the business, professional, and cultural life of Texas, and the Lunar New Year provides a fitting opportunity to recognize these fine citizens and to celebrate our common goals of peace and harmony for all humanity; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 83rd Texas Legislature hereby commemorate the Lunar New Year on February 10, 2013, and extend to all who are celebrating the holiday sincere best wishes for health and happiness in the coming year.