Tag Archives: andrew wyatt

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

 

UPDATE Virginia: No Reptile Ban!

Yesterday morning a group of motivated herpers met and participated in a grass roots walk-in of the Virginia General Assembly to OPPOSE SB 477 and HB 1242. These two companion bills introduced in 2012 by Senator Louise Lucas and Delegate Christopher Peace could have severely restricted the ownership of many reptiles and other exotic animals in Virginia. At the end of the day, Jared Watts and VIIPER members Eric Crabtree, William Taylor, and others were told that SB 477 and HB1242 would not move forward.

Virginia Grass Roots Succeeds!
Virginia Grass Roots Succeeds!

Last Summer, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, asked the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries to commission a task force to consider whether Virginia had sufficient laws on the books to prevent an incident such as the Zanesville, Ohio animal release that occurred early last year. Delegate Peace participated in this task force, known as the Dangerous Animal Initiative (DAI), and had shown interest in creating legislation based on the Final Report issued to the Governor. As reported by the US Herpetoculture Alliance, the DAI Final Report was issued last week.

Many members of the VA herpetoculture community participated in the panel

Jared Watts and Andrew Wyatt attend DAI Work Group 2012
Jared Watts and Andrew Wyatt attend DAI Work Group 2012

created for the DAI as a work group tasked with defining what may be considered a “potentially dangerous animal.” Jared Watts led the VA delegation of herpers at the DAI, supported by Larry Mendoza of the Virginia Herpetologicl Society. Andrew Wyatt, president and CEO of the US Herpetoculture Alliance played a leadership role in the DAI discussions. Together, all of the members of the herpetoculture community worked to keep reptiles out of the Final Report. It was believed that Delegate Peace would sponsor a NEW bill based on the results of the DAI Final Report, and it was not clear whether the recommendations made to Governor McDonnell in the report would be mirrored by Delegate Peace’s expected legislative proposal.

What was very clear was the Virginia herpetoculture community worked very well in a cooperative grass roots effort to protect their interests in Virginia. The Herp Alliance has learned that the deadline for submission of new legislation for the 2013 session of the VA General Assemby has passed. There will be no new reptile legislation for 2013! SB 477 and HB 1242 remain active, although the Watts delagation was told that there will be no movement of these bills.

The Herp Alliance is seeking official confirmation of this fact, and will keep the Herp Nation apprised of developments. For now it appears to be good news for Virginia herpetoculturists. There appears to be no plans to ban reptiles in Virginia!

Thank you to all of those who participated in this long and tedious process. We got involved early, and it looks like we succeeded!

 

Nevada Expected To Propose Exotic Animal Ban Today

Senator Michael Roberson
Senator Michael Roberson

Senator Michael Roberson of Nevada is expected to introduce a bill today that would ban many exotic animals from the State of Nevada, including a number of popular reptiles. Senator Roberson has long been promising a ban to “out do Ohio” regarding the import, possession, sale, transfer, and breeding of “dangerous wild animals”(DWA). He has been working closely with the Humane Society of the United States, who have coined the term ‘dangerous wild animals’ aka DWI’s, to create this sweeping ban. Today is the deadline for Senator Roberson to introduce a bill into the 2013 legislative session. The bill as written would ban many reptiles, including Burmese pythons.

Below is a copy of the most recent bill draft. The bill expected to be introduced later today may be altered from this draft.

nevada-state-legislature

 

AN ACT relating to the keeping of dangerous wild animals in captivity; to prohibit the import, possession, sale, transfer, and breeding of dangerous wild animals.

The People of the State of Nevada, Represented in Senate and Assembly, Do Enact As Follows:

Chapter 504 of NRS is hereby amended by adding thereto a new Section 504.296 to read as follows:

Definitions

  1. “Dangerous wild animal” means any live individual animal held in captivity of the following scientific classifications –
    1. Class Mammalia
      1. Order Carnivora –
        1. Family Canidae: captive-bred red wolves (Canis rufus) and gray wolves (Canis lupus).
        2. Family Felidae: lions (Panthera leo), tigers (Panthera tigris), leopards (Panthera pardus), clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa, Neofelis diardi), snow leopards (Panthera uncia), jaguars (Panthera onca), cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), captive-bred mountain lions (Puma concolor), including hybrids thereof.
        3. Family Hyaenidae: all species of hyena and aardwolf.
        4. Family Ursidae: Asiatic Black Bears (Ursus thibetanus), captive-bred American black bears (Ursus americanus), Brown Bears (Ursus arctos), Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus), Sloth Bears (Melursus ursinus), Sun Bears (Helarctos malayanus), Giant Panda Bears (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), Spectacled Bears (Tremarctos ornatus), including hybrids thereof.
        5. Family Procyonidae: all species.
      1. Order Primates: all species, excluding humans.
    1. Class Reptilia
      1. Order Crocodylia: all species of alligators, crocodiles, caimans, gharials.
      2. Order Squamata –
        1. Family Atractaspidae: all species, such as mole vipers.
        2. Family Boidae: anacondas (Genus Eunectes),  Burmese pythons (Python molurus),  Northern African pythons (Python sebae), and Southern African pythons (Python natalensis).
        3. Family Colubridae: boomslangs (Dispholidus typus), twig snakes (Genus Thelotornis).
        4. Family Elapidae: all species, such as cobras, mambas, and coral snakes.
        5. Family Hydrophiidae: all species, such as sea snakes.
        6. Family Viperidae: all species, excluding rattlesnakes.
  1. “Animal Control Agency” means a unit of a political subdivision consisting of animal control officers, as authorized by NRS Section 280.125 or other local governmental units for enforcement of the animal control laws of the city, county, and state and the shelter and welfare of animals.
  2. “Law enforcement officer” means any state police officer, local enforcement officers (such as county sheriffs, city police, and officers of an Animal Control Agency, or any officer acting under the authority of NRS 574.040.
  3. “Person” means any individual, partnership, corporation, organization, or any other legal entity, and any officer, member, shareholder, director, employee, agent, or representative thereof.
  4. “Wildlife Sanctuary” means a nonprofit entity that:
    1. Operates a place of refuge where abused, neglected, unwanted, impounded, abandoned, orphaned, or displaced animals are provided care for the lifetime of the animal;
    2. Does not conduct any commercial activity with respect to dangerous wild animals, including, but not limited to, (i) sale, trade, auction, lease, or loan of dangerous wild animals or parts of such animals, or (ii) use of dangerous wild animals in any manner in a for-profit business or operation;
    3. Does not use dangerous wild animals for entertainment purposes or in a traveling exhibit;
    4. Does not breed any dangerous wild animals; and
    5. Does not allow members of the public the opportunity to come into direct contact with dangerous wild animals.

 

  1. Prohibited Activities
  1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law and unless exempted herein, it shall be unlawful for any person to import, possess, sell, transfer, or breed a dangerous wild animal.
  2. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, it shall be unlawful for any person to allow any member of the public to come into direct contact with a dangerous wild animal.

 

  1. Exemptions
  1. The prohibitions in Subsection II(A) shall not apply to:
  1. Institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), certified related facilities that coordinate with an AZA Species Survival Plan for breeding of species listed as threatened or endangered pursuant to 16 U.S.C. § 1533, or facilities that are actively seeking accreditation or certification by the AZA that have a letter of understanding with a mentor institution that is renewed annually.
  2. Research facilities, as defined in the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. § 2132(e)).
  3. Wildlife sanctuaries, as defined in Subsection I(E).
  4. Duly incorporated nonprofit animal protection organizations, such as humane societies and shelters, temporarily housing a dangerous wild animal at the written request of the animal control agency acting under the authority of this Section;
  5. Licensed veterinarians for the purpose of providing treatment to a dangerous wild animal.
  6. Law enforcement officers for purposes of enforcement.
  7. Nevada Department of Wildlife game wardens, agents, or employees for purposes of enforcement.
  8. A person temporarily transporting a legally owned dangerous wild animal through the State if the transit time is not more than 48 hours, the dangerous wild animal is not exhibited, and the dangerous wild animal is maintained at all times in a species-appropriate cage or other travel container.
  9. Circuses, defined as exhibitors holding a Class C license under the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. §§ 2131 et seq., as amended, that:
    1. Are temporarily in the state for less than 90 days per year;
    2. Regularly conduct performances featuring live dangerous wild animals and multiple trained human entertainers, including clowns and acrobats; and
    3. Do not allow members of the public to be in proximity to dangerous wild animals without sufficient distance and protective barriers, including, but not limited to, offering photographic opportunities next to dangerous wild animals of any age.
  1. A. The prohibitions in Subsection II(A) shall not apply to any facility licensed pursuant to NRS Chapter 463 that meets the definition in NRS Section 463.01865.

B. The prohibitions in Subsection II(A) shall not apply to a Class C exhibitor licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with respect to any dangerous wild animal possessed or bred by for the purpose of fulfilling an active written contractual agreement with a facility licensed pursuant to NRS Chapter 463 that meets the definition in NRS Section 463.01865, provided that such licensed exhibitor:

      1. Shall not have been, or employ any person who has been, convicted of or fined for an offense involving the abuse or neglect of any animal pursuant to any state, local, or federal law;
      2. Shall not have had a license or permit regarding the care, possession, exhibition, propagation, or sale of animals revoked, suspended by, or operated in violation of any state, local, or federal agency;
      3. Shall not have been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act for any noncompliant item within the past 3 years in which a dangerous wild animal’s health and well-being was jeopardized by: inappropriate veterinary care; inappropriate handling of animals causing stress or trauma to the animal or a threat to public safety; inappropriate provisions of food, water, shelter, or space; or any infraction cited as a direct noncompliant item;
      4. Shall not breed or sell any dangerous wild animals, except for as necessary to fulfill an active written contractual relationship with a facility licensed pursuant to NRS Chapter 463 that meets the definition in NRS Section 463.01865;
      5. ;
      6. Shall not allow members of the public to be in proximity to dangerous wild animals without sufficient distance and protective barriers, including, but not limited to, offering photographic opportunities next to dangerous wild animals of any age;
      7. Shall maintain liability insurance in an amount of not less than two hundred fifty thousand dollars, with a deductible of not more than two hundred fifty dollars, for each occurrence of property damage, bodily injury, or death caused by any dangerous wild animals possessed by the person;
      8. Shall have a written plan, filed with the local animal control agency  for the quick and safe recapture or destruction of animals in the event a dangerous wild animal escapes, including, but not limited to, written protocols for training staff on methods of safe recapture of the escaped animal;
      9. Shall file with the local  animal control agency an annual report of all dangerous wild animals acquired and disposed of during the calendar year; and
      10. Shall maintain documentation to verify that owner and all employees involved in animal care have a minimum of 300 hours of substantial practical experience in the care, feeding, handling, and husbandry of the dangerous wild animal possessed, or other species which are substantially similar in size, characteristics, care and nutritional requirements to the species.
      11. Shall annually file with the local  animal control agency the written contract with the facility licensed pursuant to NRS Chapter 463 that meets the definition in NRS Section 463.01865.

 

 

  1. Prior Possession

The prohibitions in Subsection II(A) shall not apply to persons who lawfully possessed a dangerous wild animal prior to July 1, 2013, provided that:

  1. Such person shall maintain veterinary records, acquisition papers, or other documents or records that establish that the person possessed the animal prior to July 1, 2013;
  2. Such person shall not acquire additional dangerous wild animals after July 1, 2013, whether by purchase, donation, or breeding;
  3. Such person shall not have been convicted of an offense involving the abuse or neglect of any animal pursuant to any state, local, or federal law;
  4. Such person shall not have had a license or permit regarding the care, possession, exhibition, breeding, or sale of animals revoked or suspended by any state, local, or federal agency;
  5. Such person must register with, and pay a registration fee to, the local animal control agency by September 1, 2013, and annually thereafter, indicating the number of animals of each dangerous wild animal species in his or her possession, and showing proof of liability insurance in an amount of not less than two hundred fifty thousand dollars, with a deductible of not more than two hundred fifty dollars, for each occurrence of property damage, bodily injury, or death caused by any dangerous wild animal possessed by the person.
  6. Such person allows a local animal control agency to enter the premises where the dangerous wild animal is kept at all reasonable times to ensure compliance with this Section.
  7. At least 72 hours prior to the sale or transfer of an existing dangerous wild animal, such person must notify the animal control agency in the city or county where the person resides in writing, identifying the recipient of the animal. At all times, possession, sale, transfer, and transport of the dangerous wild animal must comply with all applicable state, local, and federal laws.

 

  1. Enforcement
  1. Rulemaking – A city or a county may adopt an ordinance to implement this Section upon completion of all applicable hearing and notice requirements, including, but not limited to, (i) establishing reasonable and necessary fees in amounts sufficient to cover the costs of administering and enforcing this Section, (ii) establish humane care standards, and (iii) expanding the definition of dangerous wild animal. However, such ordinances shall not amend the list of exempted entities in Subsection III.
  2. Seizure –An animal control agent may, upon probable cause, seize any or all dangerous wild animals possessed in violation of this Section.
  1. Upon judicial determination that (i) the seized animals are dangerous wild animals, as defined in Subsection I(A), and (ii) the owner of the seized animals has violated this Section with regard to those seized dangerous wild animals, then such dangerous wild animals seized under this Section shall be deemed forfeited.
  2. Dangerous wild animals seized and deemed forfeited under this Subsection shall be placed in the custody and control of an institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or a wildlife sanctuary (as defined in Subsection I(E)). In the event that animal control officers, after a reasonable effort, can find no such accredited zoo or wildlife sanctuary that is willing and able to take custody and control of a seized and forfeited dangerous wild animal, that animal may be humanely euthanized in compliance with state and federal law.
  3. Dangerous wild animals seized but not deemed forfeited under this Section shall be kept in the custody of an institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a wildlife sanctuary (as defined in Subsection I(E)), or a temporary holding facility identified in Subsection III(A)(4),  until disposition of the seized dangerous wild animals.  Nothing in this Subsection precludes an animal control officer from impounding a dangerous wild animal on the owner’s property until an AZA-accredited zoo or wildlife sanctuary is located for placement.
  1. The accredited zoo, wildlife sanctuary, or temporary holding facility having custody of the dangerous wild animal (or an animal control agency that has impounded a dangerous wild animal) may file a petition with the court requesting that the person from whom the dangerous wild animal was seized, or the owner of the dangerous wild animal, be ordered to post security. The security must be in an amount sufficient to secure payment of all reasonable expenses expected to be incurred by the accredited zoo, wildlife sanctuary, temporary holding facility, or animal control agency, in caring for and providing for the dangerous wild animal pending the disposition of the animal. Reasonable expenses include, but are not limited to, estimated medical care and boarding of the dangerous wild animal pending disposition. The amount of the security shall be determined by the court after taking into consideration all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including, but not limited to, the recommendation of the impounding organization or animal control agency having custody and care of the seized dangerous wild animal and the cost of caring for the dangerous wild animal. If security has been posted in accordance with this Subsection, the accredited zoo, wildlife sanctuary, temporary holding facility, or animal control agency may draw from the security the actual costs incurred in caring for the seized or impounded dangerous wild animal.
  2. Upon receipt of a petition, the court must set a hearing on the petition, to be conducted within 5 business days after the petition is filed. The petitioner must serve a true copy of the petition upon the owner of the dangerous wild animal and the entity that seized the dangerous wild animal. The petitioner must also serve a true copy of the petition on any interested person. For the purposes of this Subsection, “interested person” means an individual, partnership, firm, joint stock company, corporation, association, trust, estate, or other legal entity that the court determines may have a pecuniary interest in the animal that is the subject of the petition. The court must set a hearing date to determine any interested parties.
  3. If the court orders the posting of security, the security must be posted with the clerk of the court within 5 business days after the hearing. If the person ordered to post security does not do so, the dangerous wild animal is deemed forfeited by operation of law and the accredited zoo, wildlife sanctuary, temporary holding facility, or animal control agency having custody of the dangerous wild animal shall have legal custody and control over the dangerous wild animal.
  4. Upon judicial determination on the disposition of the seized dangerous wild animal, the person who posted the security is entitled to a refund of the security for any expenses not incurred by the impounding organization or animal control agency.
  5. Nothing in this Section shall be construed to prevent the voluntary, permanent relinquishment of any dangerous wild animal to an institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or a wildlife sanctuary (as defined in Subsection I(E)) in lieu of posting security. Voluntary relinquishment shall have no effect on any criminal charges that may be pursued by the appropriate authorities.

 

VI Escapes

If any dangerous wild animal escapes or is released, either intentionally or unintentionally, the owner of the dangerous wild animal shall immediately contact the local animal control agency to report the escape or release. The owner is liable for all expenses associated with efforts to recapture the animal.

 

VII Penalties

    1. Each violation of this Section, and any rules or laws promulgated pursuant to this Section, is guilty of a misdemeanor, including confinement in jail for not more than 6 months and/or a fine not more than $1,000.
    2. Each violation of Section VI resulting in the animal running loose, causing property damage, or attacking a human being, is guilty of a gross misdemeanor, including confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and/or a fine of not more than $2,000.

 

VII Additional Local Restrictions Authorized

Nothing in this Section shall be construed to prohibit a city or county from adopting or enforcing any rule or law that places further restrictions or additional requirements on the possession, sale, transfer, breeding, or exhibition of dangerous wild animals.

Virginia Releases Final Report on Dangerous Animal Initiative

This afternoon the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) released the long awaited Dangerous Animal Initiative (DAI) Final Report. In the wake of the Zanesville, Ohio, exotic animal release, Virginia Governor McDonnell asked the VDGIF to review existing regulations and make recommendations as to whether additional oversight was necessary to protect public safety in Virginia.

vdgifVDGIF contracted with the University of Virginia Institute for Environmental Negotiation to facilitate a workgroup of stakeholders to produce a report on exotic animals and public safety considerations in Virginia that would make consensus recommendations to the Governor on whether additional regulations were needed. The Virginia DAI work group met repeatedly between September and November. Consensus was reached in a number of areas. A draft report was circulated in December.

Today the Final Report was released by DGIF. Other than Komodo Dragons, and crocodilians that were already restricted, no reptiles were included as a part of the consensus recommendations to Governor McDonnell.

Andrew Wyatt, CEO and President of the Herp Alliance, Jared Watts, and Larry Mendoza of the Virginia Herpetological Society, were voting members of the DAI work group. Other members included Feld Entertainment, AZA, Busch Gardens, various zoos, private keepers, the Humane Society of the United States, and the pet industry.

The pro-reptile alliance on the work group was successful in keeping reptiles out of consideration as dangerous animals on the grounds that statistics and history have shown that reptiles pose virtually zero public safety threat in Virginia. Delegate Chris Peace also participated and made it clear that he would introduce a bill reflecting the recommendations of the DAI work group.

Last year companion bills were introduced in the Virginia House and Senate to restrict the ownership of a broad range of exotic animals; including many species of reptiles. Delegate Chris Peace introduced HB 1242, and Senator Louise Lucas introduced SB 477. Both bills were poorly written and displayed limited understanding of what actually poses a public risk in Virginia. After being challenged by Wyatt, as well as an organized cadre of Virginia stakeholders led by Watts, both bills were tabled for the session.

Now both bills have been reactivated for the 2013 session of the Virginia General Assembly, and could potentially be heard by the House and Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees.

The Herp Alliance has tried repeatedly to contact both Delegate Peace and

Delegate Chris Peace
Delegate Chris Peace

Senator Lucas to inquire as to their intentions regarding HB 1242 and SB 477. After two weeks of inquiries, there has yet been a response from either office. Herp Alliance believes that Delegate Peace will in fact take some kind of action on this issue now that the DAI Final Report has been released. We are worried at his lack of response and hope that whatever he proposes is in line with the DAI recommendations to the Governor. Hopefully his office will be forthcoming in the near future.

In the meantime, it is important that the Herp Nation prepare to address this issue in case a bill is introduced that does not follow the DAI recommendations. The Herp Alliance will strongly oppose a bill that goes against the recommendations of the DAI work group that would seek to add any reptiles based on fear, cultural bias and antiquated stereotypes. The Herp Alliance represents the Future of Herpetoculture as a 21st Century agricultural pursuit producing high quality captive bred reptiles for zoos, science, medicine and business. The herpetoculture community represents approximately $20 million per year in revenues for the State of Virginia. Thousands of Virginia citizens depend on herpetoculture for all or part of their income.

Please take action to secure the future of herpetoculture in Virginia. Our grass roots muscle is one of our most powerful assets. Jared Watts will be leading a lobbying day in Richmond on Wednesday 2/13/13 beginning at 8AM. Please try to attend if you can. You can reach Jared at rescueandtransportwri@yahoo.com.

Stay tuned to the Herp Alliance for breaking developments in Virginia. Follow us on Facebook and get on our mailing list for the most timely herpetoculture news and opinion available anywhere. The Herp Alliance is working for you and the Future of Herpetoculture!

New York Times Article on Python Bans

NYT

This article was originally published in the New York Times on March 5, 2010

Andrew Wyatt

Andrew Wyatt , a python breeder, is president of the US Herp Alliance and the past president of USARK.

The position of Interior Secretary Salazar on the proposed rule change adding nine constrictors to the injurious wildlife list will have a rough time in the light of real scientific or legal scrutiny.

snakes

There are so many fairy tales promoted as fact that it is difficult to decide where to start. The most repeated misstatement is that the population of pythons in the Everglades is the result of irresponsible owners releasing their charges once they have grown too large or difficult to be maintained.

That is false. There is no doubt that individuals have released pythons, but evidence suggests that they are not the ones responsible for the feral population in the Everglades.

There was a genetics study done by the National Park service and Florida International University indicating that the pythons in the Everglades are almost genetically identical. This points away from a slow introduction over time of many varied specimens and indicates a more isolated and catastrophic event such as Hurricane Andrew destroying a single breeding facility or importer of all like animals.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as many as half or more of the pythons in the wild died during Florida’s recent cold snap.

It is confirmed that all of the pythons in the outdoor facility run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Gainesville died. The word is that all of the pythons with radio markers being studied by the National Park Service in the Everglades died as well.

It is also said that all of the pythons in the outdoor experiment at the Savannah River Ecological Lab in Aiken, S.C., also died. Neither the park service nor the Savannah River Ecological Lab will confirm or deny the death of their study groups. This all demonstrates that this is a state problem in Florida and not a national problem worthy of listing on the Lacey Act. The U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers’ scientists reiterate that Burmese pythons can not survive in the wild north of Lake Okeechobee for more than a short time.

The “science” being forwarded by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey has serious problems as demonstrated by the recent cold in Florida. It has been criticized as “not scientific” and “not suitable for use as the basis for legislative or regulatory policy” by a group of independent scientists that hail from institutions like the University of Florida and the National Geographic Society.

Under the light of day the public will see that the pythons in the Everglades are currently being protected by the National Park Service as a study group. It is illegal for anyone to remove or kill pythons in the national park, the epicenter of the population. Only on state lands can they be extirpated. The federal government position is that no one but park service staff can eliminate pythons in the Everglades National Park, but they don’t have the staff to address the issue.

If enacted, the rule change to the federal Lacey Act would create a situation where millions of Americans would be in possession of “injurious wildlife” and potentially subject to prosecution. There are approximately two million boas and pythons that would be subject to a rule change currently in captivity in 48 states.

A much larger problem, feral cats, a serious problem in Florida and all the other states, is not being considered for listing because too many people already own them.

Pythons are only a problem in south Florida, yet are being considered for a federal controls, even though millions are in captivity.

The Battle for Herpetoculture: Legislative Season 2013

HSUS on the march to take away your reptiles.
HSUS on the march to take away your reptiles.

By Andrew Wyatt

A new legislative season has begun and HSUS has relentlessly been trying to leverage the tragedy in Zanesville, Ohio into legislative proposals across the country. Herp Alliance has been working hard as well We engage early in the process, often before bills ever get introduced. We will hold our ground. However, the most important element in our formula for success is our grass roots muscle. I am talking about all of the people out there in the Herp Nation that take action when it’ is necessary. I am talking about you.

We are not interested in piece-mealing away the herpetoculture community until there is nothing left. We won’t give up boas and pythons in Connecticut, nor venomous snakes in Virginia. And we certainly won’t give anything more in New York! We are all in this together. Herpetoculture is what we love.

It is time for us all to put aside our differences and work together to overcome what is sure to be some of our greatest battles. I fear that 2013 will be one of the most difficult years that herpetoculture has ever faced. We already know bills have been introduced in CT, NJ and NY. We also know that some of the bills from last year are still active in VA and IL. Nevada Senator Michael Roberson is promising to out-do Ohio.There will be others to come possibly in IN, MO, PA, WI and WV. If we don’t pull together now we could lose our ability to work with the animals we love.

The Herp Alliance is asking you to join this fight. Together we have done great things in

US Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.
US Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.

the past. We can win these battles if we work together. We have an even better legislative team now than we have ever had. We are experienced, savvy and most of all, successful! With the grass roots army that we have built together over the last 5 years you can determine your own future. The Herp Alliance has the tools and personnel to help you meet the challenges of the most critical time in the history of herpetoculture. Don’t give up. Get in the fight. Take positive action today to secure the future of herpetoculture.

You can read about the new legislation in New York and Connecticut at www.HerpAlliance.com. You will also find information on New Jersey and federal issues.

Click here to take action in New York

Click here to take action in Connecticut

US Fish & Wildlife Rule Making Authority: A Moral Dilemma

By Andrew Wyatt– CEO of the US Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc

        “Working for the Future of Herpetoculture”

The US Herpetoculture Alliance is calling for closer scrutiny for an already broken and out of control bureaucratic process in our federal government.

Senate EPWYesterday, Senator David Vitter Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, along with 23 additional Senators from both parties, sent a letter to the Obama administration questioning the administration on how proposed changes to economic impact analyses required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could potentially hide the true impact of a species listing on jobs and private property rights across the nation.

In their letter to Dan Ashe, Director of US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), they expressed concerns about FWS attempting to change the rules required for reporting economic impact to bury reality by statistical manipulation in an attempt to hide the ball on the actual impact to business and agriculture. There has been a disturbing trend of late in the lengths to which FWS is willing to go to avoid accounting for the economic impact of their rule making process, especially in regards to the ESA and the Injurious Wildlife list under the Lacey Act. This trend has become more pronounced under the direction of Dan Ashe.

FWS has systematically avoided having to make economic justifications for its actions. In a calculated strategy of using rule making to avoid the legislative process, Ashe and the Obama Administration have pushed for an aggressive, yet critically incomplete, rule making process. With the support of radical environmental and animal rights advocates, Ashe has shortcutted the rule making process, seemingly ignoring the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), the Information Quality Act (IQA), and more to the point, ignoring the required economic impact analyses.

FWS Director Dan Ashe with Senator Bill Nelson and DOI Secretary Ken Salazar
FWS Director Dan Ashe with Senator Bill Nelson and DOI Secretary Ken Salazar

By-passing these important institutional checks and balances is having a dire negative impact on agriculture and small business. Billions of dollars of economic impact and tens of thousands of jobs are at stake while FWS tries to play a bureaucratic shell game with the American public. Special interests such as the Defenders of Wildlife pressure their friends at FWS to expedite rule makings as a moral imperative.

There is no doubt that Director Ashe and the NGO’s that support him feel that they hold the moral high ground on these issues. Protecting the nation’s wildlife and environment are indeed noble causes. However, corrupt means do not lead to a noble end. Circumventing legal and administrative processes designed to protect the integrity of rule making is not noble. Decisions cannot be arbitrarily made based on the ideals of a government agency or a powerful lobbying group seeking to bypass reasonable and established mandates for process, procedure and information quality standards in order to appease special interest groups.

us-district-court1On December 14, 2010, in a decision by US District Court Judge Oliver Wanger regarding an FWS rule to cut water off from the Central Valley of California to protect the Delta Smelt under the ESA, Judge Wanger ruled against FWS calling the sloppy science and fudged process, “arbitrary, capricious and unlawful”.

The rule cut off billions of gallons of water from human and agricultural use without scientific and procedural justification. It devastated the family owned agricultural businesses that relied on water to irrigate their crops in the Central Valley of California. What was left of these family farms in the wake of the FWS action was characterized as “dust bowl” like conditions. Government ideals cannot be permitted to take precedent over facts and science in order to expedite action that hurts jobs and the economy, all under the ruse of a moral imperative to protect endangered species and the rule making process.

In 2011 Congressman Darryl Issa held a hearing before his Government Oversight & Reform Committee to investigate a “broken government” rule making process. During this hearing he points out that, “it appears the FWS violated the administrative process in a number of ways” in regards to the Constrictor rule making, a proposed rule to add 9 constricting snakes to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act. Under questioning of committee members, then Director of the White House Office of Management & Budget, Cass Sunstein, was asked about the trend in rule making where agencies were systematically avoiding economic impact analysis. Sunstein assured the committee that economic impact analysis would be done for all outstanding rules.

The Small Business Administration’s Office of the Advocate, also commenting on the sbaproposed Constrictor rule, informed the FWS that its Initial Regulatory Flexibility Act Analysis (IRFA) was sorely lacking. Scientists from around the world questioned the highly controversial science used to substantiate the rule. When the science was further questioned under the Information Quality Act (IQA), agency officials replied that they weren’t held to the mandates for information quality required by IQA. On January 17, 2012 the Constrictor rule was partially enacted without an economic impact analysis having been done. Again FWS justifies rule making actions circumventing due process with the moral authority of expediting the protection of the environment.

The continued and relentless attempt by FWS to expedite their rule making process at the expense of jobs and the economy, while justifying their actions by claiming the moral high ground, is irresponsible and reckless.

The US Herpetoculture Alliance is urging better scrutiny and oversight for a bureaucratic process gone amok. If facts and science are going to be held hostage to ideology, then expect the Herp Alliance to be shining a bright light for a growing audience of concerned Americans to be able to clearly see where government actions appear to have no regard for jobs, private property or due process. Unbridled government has become one of the biggest obstacles to economic growth and jobs. It is time that agency staff be held to account for their actions.

Herp Alliance Signs Prominent DC Consultant

Frank Vitello of Vitello Consulting
Frank Vitello of Vitello Consulting

The Herp Alliance is excited to announce that we have engaged Vitello Consulting to represent the interests of herpetoculture in Washington DC for the 113th Congress. Vitello Consulting is a full-service government affairs consulting firm assisting clients whose concerns and interests intersect with the United States Congress, federal agencies, and international regulatory organizations. Vitello Consulting’s current and prior clients include organizations such as the Zoological Association of America, The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS), the City of Niagra Falls, and the South Carolina Aquarium, among others.

Frank Vitello, the principal at Vitello Consulting, and Herp Alliance CEO Andrew Wyatt have a very successful history of working together as the architects of one of the most dynamic and effective animal advocacy teams on Capitol Hill. With the help of Vitello Consulting, Wyatt put the herpetoculture community on the map by establishing it as a $1.4 billion industry and defeating HR 669. Vitello and Wyatt garnered the support in both the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Environmental & Public Works Committee to stifle Senator Bill Nelson’s move to add all pythons to the ‘Injurious Wildlife’ list of the Lacey Act, and eventually defeated HR 2811 and S 373 (aka “The Python Ban”). Vitello and Wyatt also laid all the legal ground work for the federal lawsuit that the Herp Alliance and Vitello Consulting will aggressively pursue. There has been no more effective team on herpetoculture issues at the federal level than Andrew Wyatt and Vitello Consulting. The Herp Alliance is proud to announce that the “A Team” is back together again! Welcome back, Vitello Consulting.

Andrew Wyatt will be back in Washington DC next month for Congressional briefings on the Herp Alliance agenda for 2013.

Best Management Practices, Legislative Pitfalls & Strategic Landmines

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

The strictest law often causes the most serious wrong. The more laws, the less justice.”    ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Recently the issue of Best Management Practices (BMPs), or defined standards of care for reptiles has been hotly debated within the reptile community.  Although defined BMPs as suggestions for voluntary compliance by an organization are not, in themselves, a negative idea, the inclusion of BMPs into statute can make them a bar, or a very onerous hurdle, to working with certain animals.  In order to understand the ramifications of BMPs, you must first understand legislative schemes.

Pick Your Poison

In simplest terms, there are three basic types of legislation that seek to restrict exotic animal ownership.  The first is an all-out ban on ownership.  Such a statute currently exists in Illinois.  In Illinois, it is illegal to  keep, harbor, care for, act as custodian of or maintain any “poisonous or life-threatening reptile” as a “dangerous animal.” 720 ILCS 5/48-10(a).  Under a ban, ownership is prohibited except for certain, narrowly defined exceptions (i.e. accredited zoos and sanctuaries).

The second type of legislation is a permit/licensing/registration system.  This is a gatekeeper system wherein to keep a restricted animal, the owner must get some kind of legal “permission” from the state, and the state has a defined set of requirements necessary to participate in the keeping of the restricted animal, as well as (usually) application and other fees.

The third type of legislation is a penalty system.  Under this legislative scheme, citizens are allowed to keep the restricted animal, but there are civil and/or criminal penalties if the keeper is found to be in non-compliance with the statutorily defined requirements to keep the animal.

Both the permit system and the penalty system can operate as de facto bans.  If the requirements to keep the restricted animals become so onerous that no one can meet the housing or insurance (or other) requirements, then it becomes a situation where no one can qualify.  For this reason, it is imperative to carefully examine the language in a ballot initiative about rule making or administrative rule.  If requirements to keep a restricted species can easily be changed by a committee, instead of through legislative amendment, a change in administration can lead almost seamlessly to a change in law that has drastic consequences on herpetoculturists.

don't treadWhen Legislation Comes Knocking

In the exotic animal community, members generally learn of ballot initiatives to restrict ownership or possession o f these animals either through word of mouth or through media hype.  That is to say that either an alert community member learns of a bill that has been proposed in her state and shares that information within in the community and with advocacy organizations, such as the US Herp Alliance, or the sponsors of a bill, either the animal rights industry or a legislator, will publicize that a bill will be introduced.

In these scenarios, the community of citizens whose rights may be restricted are in a reactive role, seeking to defeat or modify the pending legislation to protect their private property and/or business interests.  In these situations, we appeal to the relevant legislature to first establish why legislation must be enacted (statistics do not support the terror campaign of the animal rights industry that reptiles are statistically significantly dangerous animals); we impress upon the legislature what the economic and property interest impact of the proposed legislation will be; we point out the problems with the bill as proposed; and we educate the law makers as to the real facts, issues and statistics.  In other words, we use all tools available to us to defeat the pending bill on its own lack of merit.

Although it seems negative to be in a reactive, rather than a proactive role, with legislation that is almost never the case for a variety of reasons.

You Cannot Trust a Shark Not to Bite the Hand That Feeds It

It’s easier to understand why proposing legislation is problematic.

When Andrew Wyatt and I were in Ohio fighting against the exotic animal ban known as SB310, we took an unyieldingly anti-legislation approach.  SB310 was not about protecting citizens in the wake of Zanesville.  SB310 was the culmination of a two-year, relentless campaign by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to enact legislation in Ohio.  That campaign endured through two governors and turned into a large, political embarrassment for current Governor Kasich who was determined to rehabilitate his public image at tremendous cost to Ohio citizens. (See SB310:  Kasich’s Big Expensive Blunder, Poised to Kill Small Business in Ohio.)

Because of the multiple reversals of position and broken promises on the part of Senator Troy Balderson (the sponsor of SB 310) and the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Wyatt and I had determined that either Balderson did not have the authority to negotiate SB 310 or he was simply acting in extraordinarily bad faith.   In either case, continued negotiations were fruitless and instead we chose to fight against the inclusion of any reptiles in SB 310.  This approach was seen by some industry members as being too rigid, and when we submitted a substitute bill to the Ohio House of Representatives excluding all reptiles, we were criticized as taking too hard line an approach.

On June 5, 2012 Governor Kasich triumphantly signed SB 310 into one of the most restrictive pieces of exotic animal legislation in the country, stating that, “I think, in many ways, this will be a model piece of legislation for the way to get this done.  . . I think it can serve as a real model for the rest of America about how to do this in a reasonable way.” (See Governor Kasich’s  SB 310 Bill Signing Statement, June 5, 2012.)

The reason we did not negotiate is because once you make concessions, in a legislative negotiation, they become the floor of what you will receive.  In other words, the proponents of the bill (in the case of SB 310, HSUS was its strongest proponent) will continue to negotiate additional restrictions and politicians who are always willing to split the baby, will concede.

This is also true for proposing alternate bills or substitute bills.  In some legislative engagements, when faced with an undesirable bill, many people are tempted to propose their own alternate bill.  This strategy is very fraught with risk. Trying to propose proactive ballot initiatives is an extremely dangerous gamble.  No matter what is written in the proposed bill, once it has been introduced on the statehouse floor, you lose complete control over what changes will be made.  Proposing legislation, therefore, means opening the reptile community up to unforeseen restrictions that were never intended or desired.

There are rare exceptions to this general proposition, and that is when a state already has statutes in place that are extremely restrictive and the proposed legislation will ease the restrictions or allow circumstances in which those restrictions can be ameliorated.  For example, if a state were to have a statute in place making the ownership or possession of all venomous animals illegal (such as it is in Illinois), it might be advantageous to propose legislation allowing people to work with venomous animals as long as certain requirements were met.  However, this is a very case specific situation and it exists only in a tiny minority of situations.

Best Management Practices in Worst Case Scenarios

There are extremely limited situations in which BMPs should ever be discussed in a legislative engagement and they are always when  a situation requires a compromise in order to prevent a de facto or an actual ban from being passed into law.  Using my example of Illinois again, where the keeping of venomous reptiles is already illegal, if proposing reasonable BMPs could persuade the legislature to allow private citizens to work with these animals, it might be acceptable.  Similarly, in Ohio, imposing reasonable BMPs would have led to a far better outcome than the act that is now law.

By reasonable BMPs, I mean common sense safety requirements, such as posting a sign in the room where the venomous animals are kept identifying the location and contact information for the necessary antivenin; keeping venomous animals in locking enclosures or in a locked room; and identifying the species kept so that first responders are not jeopardized in case of emergency.  However, BMPs are something that should only be proposed in worst case scenarios.  They must be reasonable with a reasonable nexus of connection between the requirement and public safety.  And they must be defined by experts in the field of each species and not by committees formed by politicians.

The Best Application of Best Management Practices

BMPs are something that private keepers should consider and implement themselves, specific to their situations and the specific animals that they keep.  The best protection for the entire reptile community that will impact our rights to continue to work with the animals we choose is for individuals to police themselves.  Animals should be kept with their welfare in mind, with clean, adequate housing facilities, appropriate food and medical care, including parasite control.  In addition, animals that may pose a threat to human safety should be managed with appropriate care and precaution.  Prevention of human injury and prevention of animal abuse and neglect are our best defenses against unreasonable legislation.