Tag Archives: US Herpetoculture Alliance

Advocacy, Accountability and Unity

OPINION

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.

Mike Canning's Facebook page as of February 2, 2014, describing himself as the former president and CEO.

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 Wild Animals Are not petshave 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.

Missouri’s Criminal Dangerous Wild Animal Bill

MO FlagOn February 6, 2014, Missouri Representative Stanley Cox introduced House Bill 1371, which changes laws regarding the Missouri Criminal Code and which was amended on February 10, 2014.

Among those changes, Missouri seeks to define the “keeping a dangerous wild animal” as any person who “keeps any lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, Canada lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, hyena, wolf, bear, nonhuman primate, coyote, any deadly, dangerous, or poisonous reptile, or any deadly or dangerous reptile over eight feet long, in any place other than a properly maintained zoological park, circus, scientific, or educational institution, research laboratory, veterinary hospital, or animal refuge, unless he or she has registered such animal with the local law enforcement agency in the county in which the animal is kept.”

The offense of keeping a dangerous wild animal will be a Class C misdemeanor.

Although privately keeping “any deadly, dangerous, or poisonous reptile, or any deadly or dangerous reptile over eight feet long” without a permit is already prohibited in Missouri, the definition as a “dangerous wild animal” would be new, and may impact even those owners who have permits as their insurance premiums will likely be adversely affected.

 

Maryland SB 827 Seeks to Tighten Restrictions on Exotic Animals

marylandOn January 31, 2014, Senator Pugh (D) introduced Maryland Senate Bill 827 to the Committee on Judicial Proceedings.

Current Maryland law criminalizes the ownership of all crocodilians and “poisonous [sic] snake[s] in the family groups of Hydrophidae, Elapidae, Viperidae, or Crotolidae.”  Individuals with USDA exhibitors licenses are currently exempt from this prohibition, among others.

SB 827 will remove the exemption for persons holding USDA exhibitors licenses  and instead carves out exemptions for AZA accredited zoos and circuses with Class C USDA exhibitors licenses.  There are increased prohibitions for the possession, import and trade of many large cats, primates, bears and wolves, and hybrids of these animals.

There is also a new prohibition on allowing members of the public to come into close proximity with a listed animal and reporting requirements for injuries that break the skin or may transmit zoonotic disease.

West Virginia Introduces Companion Exotics Ban in the Senate

wv_state_senate

On January 24, 2014, West Virginia Senators Robert Beach (D) and William R. Laird IV (D) introduced Senate Bill 428, a proposed Dangerous Wild Animals Act, which was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and then to the Committee on Finance.

SB 428 is another bill to ban exotic animals in addition to West Virginia House Bill 371 that the US Herpetoculture Alliance announced on January 17th, and includes the same broad ban on the keeping of exotic animals that is under consideration in the West Virginia House of Representatives.

West Virginians should be aware that there is movement in both state chambers to outlaw the keeping of all exotic animals, including reptiles and amphibians, and the specific species banned under both bills will be set by administrative rule, bypassing full legislative process.

The full text of West Virginia SB 428 can be seen here.

Indiana Seeks to Tighten Restrictions on Venomous Reptiles and Crocodilians

house

On January 9, 2014, Indiana Representative Ryan Dvorak (D) introduced House Bill 1090.

Current Indiana statute requires a separate permit to keep each venomous reptile or crocodilian over 5′ in length.  However, licensed commercial animal dealers, zoological parks, circuses and carnivals are exempted.

HB 1090 seeks to remove the exemption for licensed commercial animal dealers, thereby tightening the restrictions on the keeping of venomous reptiles, crocodilians over 5′ in length, among other exotic and wild animals.

The full text of Indiana HB 1090 can be seen here:  Indiana-2014-HB1090-Introduced.

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.

Sincerely,

 

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

Pythons, Politics, Rumor & Controversy: Clarification on the Constrictor Rule

The Thanksgiving notification given to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) by US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) that there would be another step toward the finalization of the Constrictor Rule in early 2014 has turned the herpetoculture industry on its ear. Confusion is rampant in the community. Accusations have been leveled as to responsibility, and the reptile and pet industry trade associations are scrambling trying to effect damage control. But the situation is not nearly as complicated as some would make it out to be.

11_Snakes
photo: USGS- Green Anaconda

At stake here is the trade in large constricting snakes that have been slated for addition to the Injurious Wildlife List of the Lacey Act. In 2011 FWS proposed a rule to add nine constricting snakes to the Injurious Species List. The trade in these nine species was estimated to be in excess of $100 million annually, potentially making the rule fall into the “major” rule classification which would mandate that the rule making process be rigorous and subject to information quality standards.

Subsequently, FWS published a partial rule in the Federal Register in January 2012; listing four of the proposed nine snakes on the injurious list, and holding the remaining five out as continuing to be “under consideration.” Since the rule was published USARK, PIJAC and US Herpetoculture Alliance have gone back and forth to Washington DC discussing further finalization of the ‘Constrictor Rule’ in order to remove the onus of the “under consideration” designation from the remaining five snakes that were not listed. The argument was this designation was tantamount to a de-facto listing and was destroying legal trade.

US Fish & Wildlife Service Seeks To Add More Snakes To Constrictor Rule

Fast forward to Monday, December 2, 2013. The US Herpetoculture Alliance was made aware that FWS had notified OIRA of it’s intention to finalize in full, or in part, the listing of the remaining five snakes still “under consideration” as a part of the ‘Constrictor Rule’. As reported, the notification abstract published last week indicated: “We are making a final determination on the listing of five species of large constrictor snakes as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act: Reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, Beni anaconda, and boa constrictor. Four of the nine proposed species were listed in 77 FR 3330. This rule will determine the status of the remaining five species under the same RIN.” ~ US Fish & Wildlife Service, November 2013

In the wake of this discovery we began to further research the FWS/ OIRA records over the last year. We found an even more ominous notification from July 2013 that no one had ever reported on: “We are making a final determination to list four species of large constrictor snakes as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act: Reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda. The boa constrictor is still under consideration for listing. Four of the nine proposed species were listed in 77 FR 3330. This rule will list four more under the same RIN. One more species will remain under consideration for listing under the same RIN.” ~ US Fish & Wildlife Service, July 2013

Both of these notices are part of the public record. They are not privileged information. They are available to anyone who looks for them. Neither notice is subject to interpretation. They are both the exact language used by FWS. Please follow the links and read them for yourself.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” ~ Buddha

The reality is that this is not super secret national security stuff. It is all public record. No confidences have been breached. FWS has sent clear signals that they intend to finalize the ‘Constrictor Rule’ very soon; probably by February 2014. What is also very clear is that, according to their own notice, they will likely add reticulated pythons and the three remaining anacondas to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act; while continuing to leave boa constrictors “under consideration” for future listing.

photo: USGS- Boa Constrictor
photo: USGS- Boa Constrictor

The biggest question in our mind is whether FWS will actually stop short of listing boa constrictor. We think that they will not include boa constrictors in this action, but they can do whatever they want, and publish whatever they want. They are NOT restricted by the notices they have made a part of the public record. The Herp Alliance truly hopes that FWS will decide NOT to list any more snakes. We will not know for sure until FWS publishes the final rule in the Federal Register.

In 2012 the “rumor” circulating among Washington insiders was that only two snakes would actually get listed in the final rule. As you know four were listed. Today our best guess is that four of the remaining five will get listed; with reticulated pythons being added to the list and boas escaping for the time being. We sincerely hope it will not be all five that get listed. Our endeavor is to make the best information available to the herpetoculture community. We hope this clarifies some of the confusion.

UPDATE: Reticulated Pythons To Be Added To Lacey Act

retic5The US Herpetoculture Alliance has just learned that reticulated pythons and green anacondas, along with two obscure species of anaconda, will be added to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act. Boa constrictor will remain under consideration, but will not be listed at this time.

“We are making a final determination to list four species of large constrictor snakes as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act: Reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda. The boa constrictor is still under consideration for listing.” ~ US Fish & Wildlife Service 7/23/13

The Herp Alliance has not engaged in advocacy for some time. Funding for a first class federal advocacy program is extremely costly. We have reorganized as a conservation and education organization.

The Herp Alliance broke this story yesterday. We are incorporating a news and commentary component to our mission. To that end, this information was first published last July in the Department of Interior Semiannual Regulatory Agenda. This notice provides the semiannual agenda of rules scheduled for review or development between spring 2013 and spring 2014. So this information has been available for some time.

Reticulated pythons and the anacondas will officially be added to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act when US Fish and Wildlife Service publishes the finalized portion of the ‘Constrictor Rule’ in the Federal Register.

The reptile and pet trade associations cannot sit fat, dumb and happy while the rights of herpetoculturists are regulated into oblivion.  By the time the collective coma is shaken off, the days of breeding Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons and Boa constrictors may be lost forever.

It is the opinion of the US Herpetoculture Alliance that the only real recourse is for one or both of the trade associations to file a federal lawsuit against the US Fish & Wildlife Service challenging the merits of the original ‘Constrictor Rule’ of 2012.

 

 

FWS Taking Aggressive Action Against Reptiles

While you were enjoying a quiet Thanksgiving holiday with your family, US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) was taking aggressive action against reptiles and other animal interests.

FWS has notified the Office of Management & Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) that it will finalize the ‘Constrictor Rule’ adding more boas and pythons as injurious species, as well as propose two additional rules that will allow FWS to more easily administer the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act, and effect greater control over the import, export and interstate transport of reptiles and many other animals. The full ramifications of these three rules will not be clear until until they are published in the Federal Register likely in early 2014.

SONY DSCWhat is clear is that FWS seeks to add more constricting snakes to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act. At risk are: Boa constrictor, reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda. This is in addition to the listing of four constricting snakes in 2012: Burmese python, northern and southern African pythons, and the yellow anaconda.

1)  RIN: 1018-AV68- Title: Injurious Wildlife Evaluation; Constrictor Species From Python, Boa, and Eunectes Genera. We (FWS) are making a final determination on the listing of five species of large constrictor snakes as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act: Reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, Beni anaconda, and boa constrictor.

Further, it is also clear that FWS seeks to increase their power and streamline the process to add other species to the injurious species list, while also increasing restrictions and fees on import, export and transportation of ALL wildlife.

2)  RIN: 1018-AX63- Title: Injurious Wildlife; Making Injurious Wildlife Determinations Under the Lacey Act. We (FWS) propose to revise our regulations for listing species as injurious in order to enhance the species screening process and enable more efficient and effective decisions that will help prevent the introduction and spread of injurious wildlife.

3)  RIN: 1018-AZ71- Title: Importation, Exportation, and Transportation of Wildlife. We (FWS) propose to rewrite a substantial portion of our regulations for importation, exportation, and transportation of wildlife. We (FWS) will propose changes to the port structure and inspection fees.

With the apparent unwillingness or possible inability of the reptile community to file a lawsuit challenging the shaky legal standing of the original ‘Constrictor Rule’ of 2012, FWS has become emboldened to press their advantage. Burmese pythons and three other constricting snakes were added to the Lacey Act under what some think to be an “arbitrary, capricious and unlawful” process conducted by FWS. Now FWS threatens to add five more snakes, including boa constrictor and reticulated python.

2014 promises to be a critical year for many in herpetoculture. From zoos and research facilities to commercial breeders and hobbyists, TV and film to pet owners, ALL will likely be negatively impacted by proposed rule changes to the Lacey Act.

Please share this with your friends and family. Join our mailing list, follow our blog, and follow the US Herpetoculture Alliance (Herp Alliance) on Facebook for the most timely and accurate news and analysis on all issues regarding herpetoculture.

 

RED ALERT: Catx Deadline July 31st at Midnight!

redalert_square
CatX Deadline July 31st at Midnight!

“The US Herpetoculure Alliance has just received word from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that we will receive the extension on “Public Comment” that we requested!” ~ Herp Alliance CEO Andrew Wyatt 

The US Herpetoculture Alliance broke the news regarding the unprecedented and devastating impact the proposed “Categorical Exclusion” (CatX) could have on the herpetoculture community. There is no doubt that CatX is potentially the gravest threat herpetoculture has ever faced. It could remove all meaningful due process from adding animals to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act; allowing US Fish & Wildlife Service to arbitrarily add animals in mass. DON”T LET THIS HAPPEN!

Two weeks ago Herp Alliance CEO, Andrew Wyatt, led a delegation to Washington, DC. Together with our counterparts at the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), we made our case to the Small Business Administration (SBA).

We received letters of support from the Committee Chairs of the US House Natural Resources Committee (HNR) and the Ranking Member of the Senate Environmental & Public Works Committee (EPW). Additionally, Congressman Tom McClintock pledged his support in getting answers from the Secretary of Interior.

The Senate EPW asked for a 90 day extension on public comment. The HNR asked that the CatX be completely withdrawn. We will likely not get any answers from FWS in the next few days. Stay tuned for updates.take-action

PLEASE DO YOUR PART! The Herp Alliance has been working hard for you, now you must take action on the most important issue in the history of herpetoculture! SEND AN EMAIL TO FWS WITH YOUR PUBLIC COMMENT!

 

—————————————————————————————————-

Send an Email to FWS!

***Copy and paste the following template into an email and send it to FWS (making a comment in the comment section of our blog page is NOT making “public comment” to FWS). Be sure to include the subject line. Make public comment prior to July 31 deadline. Email FWS directly:

Email Address: prevent_invasives@fws.gov

Subject Line: Categorical Exclusion; FWS–HQ–FHC–2013–N044

As a member of the herpetoculture community I am against the proposed US Fish & Wildlife “Categorical Exclusion” from NEPA mandates and I would like to support Senate EPW Ranking Member Vitter’s request for a 90 day extension on the public comment period.

This type of Categorical Exclusion is too far reaching and without precedent. It could facilitate the arbitrary addition of animals to the injurious wildlife list of the Lacey Act; potentially threatening the entire $1.4 billion annual commerce in reptiles and amphibians. Not only would it negate due process, but it would also negate legal recourse under NEPA. Categorical Exclusion could potentially become a tool to destroy my small business. Please consider the following points:

  1. The proposed categorical exclusion bypasses the requirement to consider economic and social impacts under NEPA.
  2. A categorical exclusion would not allow FWS to fully consider the beneficial impacts of declining to list a species under the Lacey Act.
  3. The proposed categorical exclusion is much broader than any of the other eight exclusions that FWS has approved under “permitting and regulatory functions”.
  4. The FWS’s “extraordinary circumstances” exception to a categorical exclusion is unhelpful because it does not apply to actions with high economic impacts.

Thank you.

—————————————————————————————————-

Click here to read Senator Vitter’s request for 90 day extension on CatX: 7.24.2013 CatX Comment Extension- Vitter

Click here to read HNR request to withdrawal CatX: PDF_Letter_to_Director_Dan_Ashe_on_Categorical_Exclusion

Click here to read Herp Alliance detailed CatX talking points: USHERP CatX Talking Points 2013