Though it might be too late for Everglades National Park, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized a rule that would ban the importation and interstate transportation of four non-native constrictor snakes.
The final rule, announced Tuesday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, incorporates public comments, economic analysis, and environmental assessment. It lists the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda, and the northern and southern African pythons as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act in order to restrict their spread in the wild in the United States. It is expected to publish in the Federal Register in the coming days.
“Thanks to the work of our scientists, Senator Bill Nelson, and others, there is a large and growing understanding of the real and immediate threat that the Burmese python and other invasive snakes pose to the Everglades and other ecosystems in the United States,” Secretary Salazar said in a prepared statement. “The Burmese python has already gained a foothold in the Florida Everglades, and we must do all we can to battle its spread and to prevent further human contributions of invasive snakes that cause economic and environmental damage.”
The four species were assessed by the U.S. Geological Survey as having a high risk of establishing populations and spreading to other geographic areas in that agency’s 2009 report, Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Large Species of Pythons, Anacondas, and the Boa Constrictor.
Sixty days after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register, interstate transport and importation of live individuals, gametes, viable eggs, or hybrids of the Burmese python, northern and southern African pythons and yellow anaconda into the United States will be prohibited. None of these species is native to the United States.
“Burmese pythons have already caused substantial harm in Florida,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “By taking this action today, we will help prevent further harm from these large constrictor snakes to native wildlife, especially in habitats that can support constrictor snake populations across the southern United States and in U.S. territories.”
Mr. Ashe said the Service will continue to consider listing as injurious the five other species of non-native snakes that the agency also proposed in 2010 – the reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.
According to Interior officials, "most people who own any of these four species will not be affected. Those who own any of these four species of snakes will be allowed to keep them if allowed by state law. However, they cannot take, send, or sell them across state lines. Those who wish to export these species may do so from a designated port within their state after acquiring appropriate permits from the Service."
The Burmese python has established breeding populations in South Florida, including the Everglades, that have caused significant damage to wildlife and that continue to pose a great risk to many native species, including threatened and endangered species. Burmese pythons on North Key Largo have killed and eaten highly endangered Key Largo wood rats, and other pythons preyed on endangered wood storks.
In the Everglades alone, state and federal agencies have spent millions of dollars addressing threats posed by pythons – an amount far less than is needed to combat their spread. If these species spread to other areas, state and federal agencies in these areas could be forced to spend more money for control and containment purposes.
Interior and its partners, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), South Florida Water Management District, and others are committed to controlling the spread of Burmese pythons and other large nonnative constrictors. For example, FWC recently implemented the use of a “snake sniffing” dog to help in its efforts to find and eradicate large constrictor snakes. This dog was present at the Secretary’s announcement today, along with a 13-foot-long Burmese python.
Under the injurious wildlife provisions of the Lacey Act, the Department of the Interior is authorized to regulate the importation and interstate transport of wildlife species determined to be injurious to humans, the interests of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, or to wildlife or the wildlife resources of the United States.