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Reptiles and Advocacy and the Long Road Ahead

The 2014 legislative session has opened with a bang this year, with multiple bills affecting herpetoculture introduced in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Louisiana, Indiana, Missouri, and Maryland.  Bills introduced in New York, New Jersey and South Carolina in 2013 started moving again.

At this time, there is no national organization that is representing private keepers of herpetofauna directly at the state level.  PIJAC faded out with the departure of its CEO and president, Michael Canning.

Herp Alliance ceased its state level engagement (testifying and advocating directly with legislators) at the end of 2013 when it also stopped accepting donations and memberships.

Although USARK insists that it is engaged in statehouse disputes, no one from the organization has been testifying against state ballot initiatives impacting herpetoculture.  On information and belief, USARK has not testified at a single state level legislative committee hearing since Andrew Wyatt’s departure in 2012.  USARK recently stated on its Facebook page that, “the reason USARK has requested that state constituents speak up is because those are the voices that matter most.”

Lacey Act quoteThis leaves no national organization advocating for the Reptile Nation at the state level.  The outcome of the Lacey Act Rulemaking will be irrelevant if it becomes illegal to own reptiles in every state.  The interstate transport of Burmese pythons will no longer matter if their ownership and breeding becomes illegal.

The Reptile Nation needs advocacy and it needs it now.  Advocating against the avalanche of animal rights legislation that is burying this industry and this hobby requires more than a flurry of Facebook status updates and blog posts in a helter skelter rush without any interpretation or organization.  In fact, that method only creates confusion and chaos.Peta Exotic Animals

Stakeholders within a jurisdiction are always critical to a fight. However, there are many situations in which those stakeholders cannot or will not speak.  Ohio has taught us many lessons, and one of those lessons is that every exotic animal owner who had the courage to suit up and show up in those unending committee hearings and deliver their carefully prepared testimony received a notice from the Department of Agriculture as soon as SB 310 became law that they had to bring themselves into compliance with the new, prohibitive regulatory scheme or their animals would be confiscated.  Their testimony made them targets.

hsus reptilesIt’s in those situations that a national organization can bring to bear the weight of its numbers under the cloak of safe anonymity.  It is the role of a trade organization to collect the data, to make the arguments, to lead, and to advocate on behalf of its constituents.  Advocacy happens when your back side is not in your easy chair with a computer screen shielding you from both legislatures and the people whose passions, hobbies and livelihoods depend on your competence and your determination.

Consider the biggest heavyweight in the animal rights arena, the Humane Society of the United States, that quarter billion dollar behemoth that decided that reptile ownership is inhumane.  (By the way, HSUS counts its total victory in Ohio as its #3 accomplishment for 2012.)

HSUS claims to “connect people of awareness with the reality of what’s advocacyoccurring with animals.”  HSUS does not sit on the sidelines and tell “people of awareness” in their respective states that they should lead their own legislative disputes.  HSUS operates like a finely tuned machine, with a network of attorneys and lobbyists doing the heavy lifting of engaging on ballot initiatives.  That is our model.  That is what is required.

What the Reptile Nation needs is simple:  advocacy.

USARK may have a very good reason for its apparent recalcitrance to personally engage in state level disputes:  the federal lawsuit challenging the Constrictor Rule of the Lacey Act.

logo5USARK used to publish its quarterly and annual financial statements on its web site.  As of now, its last financial report is from 2012 and no quarterly reports were published in 2013.  Although its total donations from 2012 were $244,485, its net income was -$35,766.

Facebook fans claim that USARK raised $137,000 to fund its federal lawsuit. USARK MoneyAssuming that figure is exclusively for its legal fund, it is a drop in the bucket.  A federal lawsuit, if it goes to trial, will easily run into the millions, and you can be sure that the defendants, whose pockets are deep with taxpayer money, will push it there.  USARK has never come close to raising a million dollars in a year.  The money simply doesn’t exist, and part of the government’s defense strategy has to be grinding USARK out of money to fight its legal battle.

If USARK is funneling all of its donations to try to fuel the federal lawsuit, then it makes sense that it cannot afford to fight at the state level as a matter of economics.  This will be a death knell for the Reptile Nation.  Under this scenario, even a hard fought victory against the US Fish & Wildlife Service will be meaningless if large constrictors are outlawed piece by piece.

In the vacuum of national representation, stakeholders in every state need to organize and now, and they need to start directing their donations toward their own organizations to fund their own legal defense funds.  Terry Wilkins and Polly Britton in Ohio emerged as industry and community leaders, retaining an attorney, finding named plaintiffs, and seeing a lawsuit all the way through to a federal appeal.

This is the model that the Reptile Nation is going to have to follow in order to have any chance at all because there is no one left at the national level with the talent and the resources to combat the tenacious march of legislation that is being pushed by the animal rights industry.




HSUS Pushes to Finalize the Constrictor Rule

US Fish & Wildlife Service Seeks CatX to Avoid Due Process For Injurious Listings

Herp Alliance has learned this morning that the Humane Society of the United States has been pushing and is gaining support to finalize the Constrictor Rule of the Lacey Act to include all nine species of large constrictor snakes originally proposed.

Below is the text of a letter from Mike Markarian of HSUS trying to get members of Congress to sign a bipartisan letter in support of listing all  five remaining constrictor snakes and to elicit support for the finalization of the Constrictor Rule to include all nine species:  Burmese python, yellow anaconda, northern African rock python, southern African rock python, reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, Beni anaconda, and boa constrictor.

January XX, 2014

Secretary Sally Jewell
United States Department of the Interior
Office of the Secretary
1849 C Street NW, Room 6156
Washington, DC 20240

Administrator Howard Shelanski
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
Office of Management and Budget
Executive Office of the President
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
1650 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Room 262
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Secretary Jewell and Administrator Shelanski,

We are writing to request that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) move quickly—and with support from OMB and the White House—to complete its ruling on large non-native constrictor snakes by issuing a final regulation listing the reticulated python, the DeSchauensee’s anaconda, the green anaconda, the Beni anaconda and the boa constrictor as injurious under the Lacey Act.

These snakes pose an unacceptable and preventable risk to the safety of the American people, and to some of our most treasured natural places.  Since 1990, 12 people have died from encounters with “pet” constrictor snakes, including a two year old Florida girl and a three year old Illinois boy who were both strangled in their cribs. Dozens more have been injured or sickened.  Further, these snakes have shown that they can adapt to, invade, and severely damaged native ecosystems, as we have seen with the Burmese python’s decimation of mammal populations in the Florida Everglades, and the boa constrictors displacement of native reptiles in Puerto Rico.  We cannot afford to risk the introduction of additional invasive species that will be expensive and difficult to eradicate.

In a comprehensive 323-page report issued in 2009, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that nine species of dangerous exotic constrictor snakes present a “high” or “medium” risk of becoming invasive since unwanted snakes commonly escape from cages,  or are turned loose by owners who were never informed their “pets” would grow to over 15 feet long. On January 23, 2012, FWS issued a rule listing four of the nine species—Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and northern and southern African pythons, which represent about 30 percent of the trade—as injurious under the Lacey Act. Unfortunately, two years have passed and FWS has failed to take action on the remaining 70 percent of the trade in large constrictor snakes. Unless these species are added to the list of injurious species, the trade will continue to threaten the environment as well as public safety.

The largely unregulated reptile industry poses a significant burden to taxpayers. The FWS, in partnership with many organizations, has spent more than $6 million since 2005 attempting to combat the growing problem of Burmese pythons and other large invasive constrictor snakes in Florida where they are consuming endangered and threatened species, have decimated as much as 99 percent of the area’s small and medium sized native mammals, and are killing family pets in residential neighborhoods.

The ability of an individual to own or sell a dangerous and exotic animal must be balanced against the interests of all Americans in preserving public safety.

Thank you for attention to this urgent matter.



Cc:          Jeanne A. Hulit
Acting Administrator
Office of the Administrator
United States Small Business Administration
409 Third Street, SW, Suite 7000
Washington, DC 20416

Python Update: Injurious Wildlife List

US Fish & Wildlife Service To Finalize Constrictor Rule-making

460012_2928585807792_1055351962_32455758_360923696_oThe US Herpetoculture Alliance has confirmed that the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has stated it’s intention to finalize the constrictor rule-making in the Summer of 2013. Known as the “Constrictor Rule”, this regulatory effort by FWS was initiated in 2008, and finalized in part in January 2012. The partially finalized rule added Burmese pythons and three other constrictor snakes to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act. Five other constricting snakes, including Boa constrictor and reticulated python remain in regulatory limbo designated as “under consideration.” The scientific and economic argument made by FWS to list the four constrictors was widely regarded as suspect. There is no science regarding the remaining five. The Herp Alliance calls on FWS to release the five remaining constrictors from further consideration.

Andrew Wyatt, CEO US Herpetoculture Alliance

In April Herp Alliance CEO, Andrew Wyatt 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 requested that FWS adhere to it’s own mandate of “retrospective review” and withdraw all five species from consideration for listing. For several months Wyatt has continued to be in close contact with staff of both the Senate Environmental & Public Works Committee and the US House Committee on Natural Resources, who have independently requested briefings on this issue from FWS. At this point the agency has not determined whether they will include additional species in the finalized rule, but have stated their intention is to finalize the rule this summer. It is likely given this Administration’s history on this issue that they will pursue additional species. Herp Alliance will provide updates as FWS makes decisions in this regard.

Please join the Herp Alliance and help us in the effort to shut down the FWS Constrictor Rule. We need your help to “Protect the Future of Herpetoculture!”