Obama Administration Releases Rule to Prohibit Import of Some Large Constrictor Snakes

Environmental groups say rule is a small but important step toward preventing entry of animal imports that pose significant risks to ecosystems and public safety

01-17-2012 // NWF Staff

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a final rule that will list four species of huge, non-native constrictor snakes as “injurious species” under the  federal law that gives the FWS the power to prohibit their importation to the United States and their use in interstate commerce. 

In 2010, the FWS proposed rule included the listing of nine species of huge constrictor snakes. The final FWS rule drops five of these species and lists a total of four non-native constrictor snakes as injurious species. The four species that will be listed as injurious are the Burmese python, yellow anaconda, northern African rock python, and southern African rock python. The five snakes that were dropped from the list finalized by FWS are the reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda.

This rulemaking process initially began in 2006 at the request of the South Florida Water Management District, and, after a lengthy process of agency action and a public comment period, the resulting rule had been awaiting release by the Office of Management and Budget since March 2011. The Administration was approached by numerous members of Congress from all over the country, both Republicans and Democrats, as well as almost the entire south Florida congressional delegation to encourage the release of the rule.

“A small but vocal sector of the pet industry concerned with importing and breeding these dangerous exotic snakes seems to have put a stranglehold on a sensible rule,” said Dr. Bruce Stein of the National Wildlife Federation. “Unfortunately, when it came to weighing the economic interests of these few breeders against the enormous economic and ecological damage these snakes can cause, the Administration was sold a bottle of snake oil.”

For years the federal government has come under sharp criticism for allowing invasive animal species into the country that have caused major damages to the environment and agriculture, leading to economic costs and environmental and safety risks. Recent invasions by imported animal species such as the constrictor snakes, Asian carp, and red lionfish are together costing federal, state, and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars annually in efforts to control them. These costs could have been avoided if authorities had considered their risks beforehand and restricted their importation. 

As a leading import market, the United States receives hundreds of millions of non-native animals each year, which represent thousands of different wildlife species. In practice, very few risk assessments are done before these animals arrive in the country, and the111-year-old law that gives the FWS regulatory authority to prohibit importation has only 25 entries on the injurious species list. These species were typically restricted only after years of importation, and damage had already occurred. In contrast, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel require all new animal species to be assessed for the likelihood of invasion before they are allowed into those countries.

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