A lot has changed over the last year in the reptile community. In December 2012, Andrew Wyatt resigned from USARK, the trade organization that he co-founded in 2008. In January 2013, we co-f0unded the US Herpetoculture Alliance. Although originally designed and organized to be an advocacy organization on behalf of herpetoculture, it has evolved into an education, conservation and information organization. We do not engage directly in legislative issues. But we analyze them and we will report on them. We do not accept donations and everyone involved with Herp Alliance does so on a volunteer basis. Herp Alliance has never paid a salary to an employee or an independent contractor.
Meanwhile, changes have been afoot at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) as well. Although PIJAC has been conspicuously silent on the topic, Mike Canning has announced on his Facebook page that he is the former President and CEO of PIJAC. Notably, former Vice President of Government Affairs & General Counsel, Mike Maddux has also disappeared from the PIJAC web site, as well as Bambi Nicole Osborne, Esq., Director of Government Affairs. PIJAC has apparently done some quiet housecleaning.
People who are “Leaders in the Industry” have called for “unity.” Any criticism of the way legislative issues have been handled (or not handled) that we have published has been criticized as “divisive” and not in the best interests of the industry. I disagree. HSUS is not going to back away from the persecution of reptile keepers because of unity in the community. Wayne Pacelle is not going to say, “Let them keep their large constrictors. They are all such great friends.”
What this industry needs is competence, advocacy and accountability.
According to USARK, they have been on a banner run of fund raising in the few months that have passed since they announced the filing of their federal lawsuit challenging the Constrictor Rule of the Lacey Act. USARK should be commended for retaining counsel and filing their lawsuit. It is the only hope to reverse the damage done by the Constrictor Rule.
Rumors in the reptile community have circulated with some industry insiders claiming that there is a “99%” chance that USARK’s lawsuit will be victorious. (These are odds that no lawyer could guarantee.) And while wave after wave of information has leaked out of Washington DC, with Herp Alliance intercepting direct correspondence from HSUS to members of Congress, USARK continues to maintain that it is on top of the situation and is doing “much, much more.” More of what, remains to be seen.
What we have not seen are advocacy letters from USARK to members of Congress pleading the case against listing five additional species to the Constrictor Rule.
The Categorical Exclusion Rule (or, CatX, as coined by Andrew Wyatt) just reopened for comment. Although USARK has adopted the nomenclature of Cat Ex, it was Herp Alliance, last year, who secured this extension on the comment period. Those of you who have not yet sent letters opposing CatX should do so immediately.
Bills that would dramatically affect herpetoculture and the right to privately keep reptiles are pending in Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina right now, with more bills in drafting departments of other states as I write. The avalanche of legislation started by the animal rights industry that began a few years ago against reptile keeping continues to grow and to gain momentum.
On the state level, USARK has maintained a low profile. Numerous supporters have stated on Facebook that USARK will no longer engage at the state level. Some announcements have been made. There have been a few action alerts encouraging stakeholders to write letters and emails. Some bills have been overlooked until days after their introduction. So far, USARK has not testified at a state committee hearing in this legislative session, either in person, or through written testimony. Whether they will actually jump into the game or not remains to be seen. It is possible that their hands are tied by funding a federal lawsuit which will certainly cost millions of dollars to fund if they intend to see it to its end. Where will that money come from? Gary Bagnall is not going to pony up seven figures to defend the right to keep large retics. In fact, Zoo Med will be able to peddle more hot rocks and amateur equipment to corn snake keepers when the market is limited to the less controversial species. The end game cannot be a full blown lawsuit. The money is simply not there.
If USARK abandons state level regulation, reptile bans at the state level will become a certainty.
The reptile community has donated tens of thousands of dollars to USARK. If they are now exclusively a federal trade organization, they need to make that known. When small business owners and private keepers are donating their hard earned dollars to the only trade organization that is left in existence to advocate for their rights, they have the right to know what is being done. They have the right to be critical and they have the right to demand action. They are the only recipient of your donations. They are accountable to their constituents. Competence, advocacy and accountability. That is what they owe to herpetoculture and that is what should be demanded and delivered.
Unity in the face of inertia might make us all better friends so that we can comfort each other while our pets get criminalized.