Tag Archives: python ban

Florida Python Challenge: More Than 1,000 Hunters, 2 Full Weeks, Only 30 Snakes

python-challenge

More than 1,000 people signed up to hunt Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades, but just a fraction of them have been successful so far.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Friday that 30 of the invasive snakes have been killed in the competition that began Jan. 12.

Wildlife officials say eradicating pythons from the Everglades was never the goal of the monthlong “Python Challenge.” Instead, they hoped to raise awareness about the snake’s threat to native wildlife and the fragile Everglades ecosystem. The snake faces both state and federal bans.

No one knows for sure how many pythons live in the Everglades. Researchers say the hunt is helping them collect more information about the pythons’ habits.

The competition ends Feb. 10.

Associated Press, January 25, 2013

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.

HSUS: The Pacelle Propaganda Machine Hampers Progress For Animals

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

This post was previously published on my personal blog, A Legal Perspective, on December 3, 2012.

Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) blogged today, lambasting Andrew Wyatt and U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) for opposing  U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s (R-FL) animal rights driven House Resolution 511.  HR 511 seeks to amend title 18, United States Code (the “Lacey Act”), to prohibit the importation of nine species of constrictor snakes as injurious species.  These include the Burmese python, the reticulated python, the North African rock python, the South African rock python, the Boa constrictor, and three species of anaconda.

Andrew Wyatt preparing to testify before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs

Apparently, the reptile community, led by Andrew Wyatt, has struck a nerve with the $200 million plus per year animal rights legal behemoth, HSUS.  Pacelle’s angst at Wyatt is not particularly surprising.  Since co-founding the United States Association of Reptile Keepers in 2008, Wyatt has emerged victorious in more than two dozen state engagements defending the rights of herptile owners as well as multiple federal entanglements.  These victories have come on a shoestring budget and against HSUS’s powerhouse millions.  Wyatt is most certainly a bothersome thorn in Pacelle’s manicured paw, and one that will not go away.

Pacelle said today, “But the reptile lobby—yes, there is such a thing—has been thrashing its collective tail and saying how benign these snakes are and that cold weather will prevent the snakes from going much farther than the Everglades (I guess it’s no matter to these supposed snake “lovers” that the snakes will freeze to death).”

Pacelle’s comment is interesting for two reasons.  First, using HSUS’s own statistics, 17 people have been killed by large constrictors in the US since 1978.  HSUS further claims that there have been 1,111,768 large constrictors imported since 1977.  Using those figures alone, without factoring in the millions of large constrictors bred in captivity this country since 1978, it makes the risk of death from a large constrictor less than 0.01%.  Large constrictors may not be “benign,” but the risk of being killed by a vending machine, a clothes dryer, a sand hole, a shark attack, a dog or a bee are significantly higher than the statistical risk of being killed by a large constrictor.

Second, Pacelle seems to concede that the snakes will freeze to death if they travel north of the most southern tip of Florida.  HSUSclaims on its own web site about reptiles, “Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.”  As great a shock as it may come to HSUS, animals in the wild are not frolicking about making daisy chains and counting stars as they do in Disney movies.  Wild animals die of disease, injury, predation, starvation, and yes, from the elements of nature.

Clearly, Pacelle’s remark is intended only to inure sympathy from animal lovers who don’t truly understand the issue. HSUS has used similar rhetoric about dog breeders, showing a decided recalcitrance to distinguish between responsible breeders and puppy mills.  Responsible reptile owners and breeders do not want to see the suffering of any herptile, and they certainly don’t advocate releasing any captive reptiles into the wild.

Pacelle’s tantrum continues, “Somehow the snake lobby, in the form of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, has hoodwinked a number of Republican House members and apparently convinced them that this is a matter of “economic freedom.”

This is about economic freedom. HSUS does not have the right to deprive American citizens of their property interests and their livelihoods simply because Pacelle doesn’t agree with reptile ownership.  It must be incredibly empowering for one person to believe that his ideology should translate into law for every American citizen, but it is the duty of lawmakers to protect the interests of their constituents, no matter how much it upsets Mr. Pacelle.  The majority of people involved in true herpetoculture, the breeding and ownership of captive bred reptiles, care immensely about the health and welfare of the animals they keep.  (If Pacelle is truly concerned about the welfare of animals, perhaps he should revisit his endorsement of convicted dog fighting felon, Michael Vick, who, for a monetary donation, now receives Pacelle’s endorsement.)

Pacelle speciously condemns U.S. Rep. Southerland for condoning the import of  “dangerous invasive species into the country for use as pets, even if they are creating ecological havoc, injuring and killing private citizens, and costing the nation millions of dollars in terms of containment activities.”  (When he hasn’t got facts, he embellishes.)  Notably, Pacelle provides no back up for his inflammatory and false rhetoric.  HSUS’s fall back plan is to continue to terrify the public about non existent threats in order to feather HSUS’s own legal nest.  (HSUS has conceded in its Motion to Intervene in Ohio that it has an economic interest in winning legislative engagements because doing so attracts more monetary donations.  I will be writing on that topic next.)  If Pacelle needs to succeed in state and federal legislatures in order to attract the hundreds of millions of dollars that pay his six figure salary, perhaps he should set his sights on those more dangerous predators, such as vending machines, clothes dryers and sand holes.

U.S. Representatives Fleming and Southerland, Dr. Brady Barr, Shawn Heflick, Colette Sutherland and Andrew Wyatt should be commended for bringing facts to the table regarding the threat of pythons in the Everglades and the economic impact of arbitrary and capricious government action.  The role of our representatives in Congress is to protect our rights from unnecessary and harmful legislation, not to ensure that Pacelle has enough “wins” to fund HSUS into perpetuity.

Herp Nation's Dan Krull Interviews Erika Chen-Walsh

radio

Herp Nation’s Dan Krull talks with Erika N. Chen-Walsh, the Vice President of the new “Herp Alliance”. Erika comes on the Dan Krull Show to answer many of the questions you’ve been asking, along with more detail about the direction of the new Herp Alliance.

http://www.herpnation.com/audio/erika-chen-walsh-talks-to-herp-nation-radio/

The Founding of the United States Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.

1-USHA5By Erika Chen-Walsh

There have been excessive rumors flying on the internet about Andrew Wyatt resigning as president and Chief Executive Officer of USARK and the founding of the United States Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc. (the “Herp Alliance”).

Wyatt was one of the founders of USARK and together, the USARK team enjoyed phenomenal success from 2008-2012. On a shoestring budget, USARK was able to do extraordinary things for reptile and amphibian keepers at the federal, state and local levels. Wyatt spearheaded a massive grass roots campaign to defeat federal HR669. S373, and HR2811 in 2009-2010. He also launched a successful federal case to remove five species of large constrictors from the Injurious Wildlife listing of the Lacey Act in 2008-2011. His team filed the Information Quality Challenge with USGS on the Constrictor Report in 2010, laying the groundwork for a federal lawsuit on the rule change issue. He commissioned the Georgetown Economic Services comprehensive assessment of the reptile/amphibian industry in 2011 and he participated in the defeat of anti-herpetoculture legislation in more than two dozen states. Perhaps most notably, Wyatt has put USARK on HSUS’s radar screen and made the reptile community a force with which to be reckoned.

Those successes with USARK were hard fought and hard won and although Wyatt was the main strategist and face of USARK during his tenure, those successes belong to every person who contributed ideas, time, resources, talent and money to the cause, including but not limited to every member of the USARK board and every member and volunteer of USARK.

After such a long and colorful history, leaving USARK could not have been an easy decision, and Wyatt wishes USARK continued success in the years to come.

Many members of the reptile community have come forward with strong opinions regarding Wyatt, USARK and the Herp Alliance. Bob Ashley and Brian Potter of NARBC have released a public statement throwing their support behind USARK and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (“PIJAC”) and criticizing Wyatt as being a divisive figure. Other prominent individuals have reached out to me personally and privately expressing concern over the impact on the industry.   Brian Potter has been a close and respected personal friend of mine and my experience with Bob Ashley is that he is an ethical leader in this industry.  I respect their opinions. In fact, I value them, and I take seriously their concerns about division in the community and the future of herpetoculture.

USARK has come forward with a bold plan for 2013 and has set forth their goals and alliances, and USARK board member, Dr. Warren Booth, has been generous in his communications with the community even while on vacation overseas, trying to assuage concerns about the change in leadership and to calm anxieties.

The goal of the Herp Alliance is not to further divide this community, but to provide additional voice to our numbers. We, too, can learn from the model of the Animal Rights Industry. Invariably, when legislation is introduced seeking to restrict the rights of animal owners, HSUS shows up alongside PETA, Born Free, and other animal rights organizations. Indeed, HSUS unashamedly admits to bringing others in from out of state to testify at their side. The sheer number of these groups that appear, give them multiple opportunities for testimony (both written and oral), multiple witnesses, and multiple bodies to call upon legislatures. That numerosity makes them appear to be a majority interest when often they are (as in Ohio), by far, the minority. These groups do not have identical goals, but they are able to find enough commonality to stand together toward a single purpose.

There is no reason that the reptile community, indeed the exotics community, cannot do the same thing.  In fact, we must.

Bob Ashley was correct when he said that the pet industry can help the reptile community. There are many situations in which our interests are perfectly aligned. And then there are issues of concern within the reptile community that are not related to the pet industry (such as large constrictors, venomous animals, crocodilians and varanids) and it would not make sense for the pet industry to be involved. The Herp Alliance is interested in vigorously defending the private right to responsibly keep all species of herpetofauna.

Similarly, it’s true that the interests of zoos and researchers are not always aligned with private keepers. However, the ability to keep species and to move them easily across state lines presents more commonality.

Commonality is what binds us and what will help the entire community – private breeders, large and small pet stores, researchers, educational institutions and zoos – to be able to continue to work with the animals that we all love and in which we are interested.

The Herp Alliance will work in tandem with any group that seeks common ground toward our common goals. We would welcome the opportunity to work alongside USARK or PIJAC in any engagement.

The Herp Alliance is in the process of finalizing the details of our 2013 Strategic Prospectus. Once it is completed, it will be available. Our Board of Directors will include breeders of large constrictors, venomous animals, crocodilians and varanids. Our financial statements will be public and we will provide significant transparency of our goals, actions, and finances.

Some goals of our 2013 road map include, but are not limited to:

Our number one goal in 2013 is to file a federal lawsuit to challenge the Constrictor Rule;

To establish a separate legal fund to enable the filing of lawsuits to challenge inappropriate legislation and bills where we have legal justification for doing so;

To continue to evaluate and oppose federal, state and local legislation adversely affecting the rights of responsible herpetoculturists;

To contribute to conservation efforts, with a focus on conservation aided by captive breeding programs; and

To work with zoos and research institutions on common issues.

The Death of HR 511

congressBy Andrew Wyatt

Today the 112th Congress came to a close, and with that HR511, aka “The Python Ban” died a quiet death. HR511 was a legislative version of the recent rule making by US Fish & Wildlife Service to add nine constrictor snakes to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act. Where the rule making fell short by adding only the Burmese python and 3 other snakes, HR511 would have superseded the rule making adding all nine snakes to the Injurious list. Much to the chagrin of animal rights advocates, after two years and two congressional hearings, HR511 has finally been defeated.

Introduced in early 2011 by Congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL), HR511 languished with very little attention for about one year. In early 2012 the bill moved to a mark up hearing and was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee with two amendments that would require “knowingly violating” the law, and provide exemptions for certain shippers. Uncharacteristically, HR511 was held for legal review until September.

Upon its final release by the Judiciary Committee, HR511 was picked up by the House Natural Resources Committee for hearing. Andrew Wyatt was the first expert witness chosen to testify on behalf of herpetoculture by committee staff. Wyatt nominated Dr. Brady Barr of the National Geographic Society and Shawn Heflick of NatGeo WILD also be called as expert witnesses. PIJAC recommended Colette Sutherland to represent the pet industry.

On November 29th, 2012, Chairman John Flemming (R-LA) the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a full hearing. Wyatt used the new cold weather study by Jacobson et al, 2012 as the central argument demonstrating why pythons were unable to survive north of the southern tip of Florida. Heflick and Barr related their “boots on the ground” experience with pythons in the Everglades supporting the findings of Jacobson et al. Colette Sutherland gave a heartfelt depiction of the impact that unjust legislation would have on her family, business and other similar businesses. Wyatt reinforced that HR511, if passed, would have an economic impact of as much as $104 million annually.

Wyatt, Heflick and Barr were extremely effective in convincing the subcommittee that HR511 was based on fundamentally flawed science and would be a “job killer” in a time of economic hardship. With herpetoculture advocates now proactively dictating the narrative regarding the question of south florida pythons, the committee decided to discharge HR511 without a vote; thus curtailing all momentum from the bill.

Today HR511 died with the close of the 112th Congress.

Herp Nation Radio Network's Dan Krull interviews Andrew Wyatt about the Herp Alliance

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From the Herp Nation web site:

The Herp Nation Radio Network’s Dan Krull talks with Andrew Wyatt about his resignation from USARK that was first reported to you here on HerpNation.com. Dan asks the questions the herp community wants answers to about Andrew’s departure, and also what the future holds for his new organization. Herp Nation has reached out to USARK and will bring you that information as soon as it becomes available. Listen now….

http://www.herpnation.com/audio/dks-sr2-010112/

HSUS: Lying is a Thriving Vocation

“Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it.” ~ Lysander Spooner

On June 8, 2012, I attended the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) 4th Annual Animal Law Conference in Chicago. This is an all-day event with a series of speakers on animal law topics for which attorneys receive credit toward Illinois’ mandatory continuing legal education (CLE). Approximately forty attorneys attended and one of my law partners, David H. Hopkins, an avid gun dog enthusiast and breeder of English Springer Spaniels, moderated the segment on due process rights in animal law.

I am the Vice Chair of the DuPage County Bar Association Animal Law Committee, but one of the reasons I attended this CLE was because the second presentation on the agenda was “Wildlife Enforcement Case Study and Exotics After Zanesville.” The presenter was Debbie Leahy, Captive Wildlife Regulatory Specialist, HSUS, Chicago. I was actively involved in the opposition to SB 310 and came to know who the HSUS players in Ohio were. Debbie Leahy was not among them.

I did a little research on Leahy’s background after hearing her speak. Prior to joining HSUS, Leahy founded the animal rights group Illinois Animal Action, which she headed for eight years. She then joined PETA and lead their nationwide campaign against circuses and roadside zoos. PETA has bragged about Leahy that she “has dashed onto killing fields to disrupt pheasant hunts,” and “dressed as a giant rabbit to protest cruel animal tests.”

I was not able to find any record of her being on the bar in any state, nor does HSUS bill her as an attorney, so I am not sure why ISBA felt she was qualified to give a CLE presentation to Illinois lawyers, but I digress.

Perhaps it is because her background is not legal, but I was appalled at the inflammatory rhetoric she used in her presentation and by her multiple misstatements of fact and exaggerations. Clearly, Leahy felt she was pitching to a friendly audience, but the ease with which she misinformed was shocking, and Herp Alliance members should pay close attention, because Leahy spoke directly to HSUS’s strategy with respect to reptiles as well as other exotic animals.

HSUS has coined the catch phrase “DWA,” meaning Dangerous Wild Animals. Its list of “Species of Greatest Concern” includes: Big cats, small wild cats, bears, primates, wolves, venomous reptiles, large constrictor snakes, and alligators and crocodiles. HSUS’s written goal is to pass laws “limiting the possession of these animals to zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries (GFAS).” According to Leahy, “Exotic animals are in every nook and cranny of the country, in tiny pens and sheds, shut up in people’s basements and locked in bedrooms.” Her written presentation rejected even permits to possess exotic animals in favor of a total ban on ownership.

Leahy opened by gloating over the HSUS victory in Ohio in which she described the long fought battle with former Governor Strickland beginning in 2010 and over which HSUS finally prevailed. She glowed that she was pleased to report that Ohio is now a state “that bans wild animals as pets.” HSUS is thus conceding that SB 310 had nothing to do with Zanesville. It was the result of HSUS pressure and influence since 2010. For HSUS, Zanesville was the happy coincidence that pushed their ship over the finish line.

In discussing exotic animals, Leahy opined that large constrictor snakes are “high maintenance deadly predators.” She further stated that pythons and Boa constrictor are second only to big cats in human deaths. She said that there have been 17 human deaths since 1978 caused by deadly constrictor snakes nationwide. (According to HSUS itself, as of 2009 there were more than 13 million snakes living as pets in the United States.) According to Leahy, the problem with escaped large constrictors has reached the point where, “Escaped pythons are springing out of toilets, attacking people in gardens and ambushing children playing in their yards.”

Importantly, HSUS also testified in Ohio that there have been 17 human deaths caused by constrictor snakes since 1978. However, at both times HSUS made this statement, it failed to provide any support for it. Moreover, Leahy’s outrageous exaggerations about pythons “springing out of toilets” and accosting humans in their yards are false rhetoric designed to terrorize the public.

We must control this dialogue and present a true image of snakes in captivity. We cannot allow HSUS to perjure itself in support its tyrannical campaign to end reptile ownership.

Leahy provided an HSUS “Factsheet” to help summarize the immediate peril of “Illinois Incidents” dating back to 1997. Included in the HSUS list of incidents were two dead snakes (a 15′ Burmese python and a 7′ Boa constrictor) found frozen to death next to a fence at a truck stop and a 4′ albino Burmese python found sunning itself on the pavement outside of a Starbucks. In fact, notwithstanding HSUS’s outrageous allegations to the contrary, even their own “factsheet” lists only one injury in Illinois since 1997 from a reptile (the strangulation death of a 3 year old by his parents’ African rock python on August 29, 1999). One incident in fifteen years! This is a tragic fluke, not a problem. Bee stings cause more deaths than snakes.

Leahy then moved on to Illinois SB 3264, the controversial and painfully ill conceived bill introduced by Senator Heather Steans on February 1, 2012. HSUS was fully supportive of SB 3264′s provisions as it was written as well as later drafts, and has been working with Senator Steans on a promised revision this fall. Leahy admitted that HSUS is gearing up already for the coming legislative session and is gathering support for Steans from AZA and GFAS accredited sanctuaries as well as lining up the experts that they are planning to bring in to testify. In addition, she encouraged all supporters of SB 3264 to begin calling their state senators and representatives now to voice their support for this HSUS initiative. (Herp Alliance will issue an action alert for its members at the appropriate time to begin voicing our opposition if this comes to fruition.)

Leahy also revealed that HSUS has its eye on Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri, which she described as having “weak or non-existent laws.”

Leahy described three different times the “vigorous, vocal and obnoxious” opposition to “reasonable DWA legislation.” In fact, she had a slide in her PowerPoint presentation listing the vigorous, vocal and obnoxious opposition that included seven organizations. Second on the list was USARK, under the leadership of Andrew Wyatt (immediately after the Zoological Association of America). She described these groups as “industry interest groups and private owners represented by an umbrella organization.” Congratulations, Andrew Wyatt, you put the reptile community at the top of the list!