The reptiles in your collection may very well be the last you ever own. The state of Florida is once again endeavoring to eliminate the reptile business. But not just for Florida, for the entire United States. On January 26th, 2009 a group of representatives from Florida introduced a bill into the U.S. House of Representatives that may very well end the open trade of many popular reptile species in the United States. Florida has a nonnative species problem. Of this there is no doubt. But rather than dealing with their problems at home they are taking it to the federal level (to get federal funds no doubt) and bringing us all down with them. This impacts you if any of the following are true:
- You want to be able to buy a reptile of a certain species at any point in the future.
- You want to be able to sell or trade a reptile of a certain species at any point in the future.
- You want to be able to breed a reptile of a certain species at any point in the future.
- You want to be able to transport a reptile across any state line at any point in the future.
As a community the reptile industry is terribly unorganized. We have no central body to represent us on a large scale and as a community we are now poised to have our hobby, our pastime, our businesses and, for many, our livelihood, eliminated by federal law. I’m not trying to be dramatic. This is real. If, as a group of citizens who share a common interest, we don’t get motivated about preserving our rights we will lose them. It is highly likely that those who represent us in the House and the Senate will gladly vote to make this bill into law because on the surface it seems to be a good idea. It aims to protect the United States from the damaging effects of nonnative animal species. And while we cannot doubt that there is a need for some protections for our native habitats we are in danger of having large chunks of the reptile business swept away in the process. We cannot let this happen.
As a community we need to protect our interests. This means we need to become organized. The exact mechanism by which we do this needs to become a point of immediate discussion followed by swift action. The formation of a trade association with the ability to lobby on our behalf specifically as it relates to this proposed law appears to be a mandate. I suspect that the lack of such action will lead to the worst of all possible outcomes for the reptile industry.
The formation of a trade association is one thing. Joining and supporting (yes, financially) that association is another. If you like keeping/breeding/selling reptiles you will need to particiapte. This is true even if you only have a single animal that serves as the household pet. Trade associations that lobby for their cause require the financial resources to do so. Are you willing to spend money to support a trade association that endeavors to protect your right to own the reptile of your choosing? I hope so. Because if you’re not, you may lose the right to own one in the future.
Let me explain how this proposed law, currently called the ‘Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act’, will affect you. Once in effect there will be two lists; a list of approved species and a list of banned species. These lists will control whether or not a certain species may be imported into the United States. Those who only want the reptile business propagated by captive breeding may initially welcome a long list of banned species. This Act, however, goes much deeper than controlling the importation of animals. In no part is the intent of this Act to preserve and protect reptiles in their native habitat. This Act intends produce a single long-term result: the elimination certain reptiles from existence anywhere in the United States.
If approved this Act will make the following a reality:
- You may no longer posess, sell or offer to sell, purchase, trade or offer for trade any animal on the banned list.
- Result: Large chunks of the reptile business: bye-bye. All of the people who have jobs today in part because of the reptile business: bye-bye.
- You may no longer transport any animal on the banned list across any state line by any means.
- Result: Shipping a reptile to someone across state lines will be a crime. Taking your reptile to a trade show will be a crime.
- You may no longer own any animal that is on the banned list. If you owned the animals PRIOR to this Act becoming law you may continue to lawfully own the animal.
- Result: There is a hidden catch to this. If you legally own one of these animals today you will have to reveal that ownership to the authorities tomorrow. And there will be fees for the ownership, I’m sure. I suspect you will also be subject to inspections from authorities and will have to notify the authorities of any action you are taking with your animal. This is already true in some communities today. This Act will make it a federal matter that applies to all of us.
- You may NOT breed any animal that is on the banned list and you may NOT provide an animal to any other person for the purpose of breeding.
- Result: This effectively end the reptile breeding trade for any banned species.
What kind of crime are you committing if you get caught doing one of these things? Well, it’s a Lacey Act violation. If the animal you are caught with is worth more than $350 it is a felony. You could be sent to prison for several years (including life) and fined up to $250,000. If you are a business that gets caught the fine doubles to $500,000. If the animal you are caught with is less than $350 in value you are guilty of a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor charges include jail time up to 1 year and fines up to $100,000 for individuals and $200K for businesses.
How do we fight such a proposal? Section 4(c)(B) requires that an animal on the Approved List can only get there if the evaluating authorities are provided “sufficient scientific and commercial information to allow the Secretary to evaluate whether the proposed nonnative wildlife species is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to other animal species’ or human health.” The elimination of the ability to buy/sell/trade/own or breed certain reptiles and/or transport them across state lines will cause grave financial harm to the reptile business. And it won’t just be the breeders who suffer. The retailers of reptile caging supplies, rodent breeders, and veterinarians will suffer financially as well. Freight carriers such as Delta and FedEx will lose millions of dollars per year in revenue. The trickle down effect will be widespread. This illustrates the importance of a trade association that has lawyers and lobbyists that can make these points and argue for our rights.
Section 4(b)(1)(B) provides for animals that are potentially destructive to be on the Allowed List that “may be harmful to the United States’ economy, the environment, or other animal species’ or human health, but already are so widespread in the United States that it is clear to the Secretary that any import prohibitions or restrictions would have no practical utility for the United States.” What a great opportunity this is. I’m not a lawyer and I can easily conjure up ideas on how this can be leveraged.
Where do we go from here? I’m not 100% sure but we need to get serious about it. There may be others in the industry who are way ahead of me. If you are, please speak up. If there is nobody out there who has already taken the lead on this then we need people within the community who have the skills to step up. Me? In addition to breeding reptile professionally I’m a computer network security guy. I know how to make computers go but I don’t really know how to start a trade association or set up a lobby with legal support. Do you?