WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has added four non-native constrictor snake species to the injurious species list to protect threatened and endangered native wildlife. The agency did not include the boa constrictor in its final rule published Tuesday, but it acknowledged that the establishment of the boa could harm wildlife and other resources in the United States.
The listing will prohibit import of the four snakes into the United States and its territories, as well as transport across state lines, and is intended to help restrict the snakes’ spread in the wild.
“From 2004 to 2013, more than 1.2 million live constrictor snakes of 13 species were imported into the United States,” according to the action.
Anacondas and pythons can reach lengths of 20 feet or more, while the boa grows to about 13 feet in length. Providing for these pet snakes can become difficult as they reach these large sizes, which can lead to pet owners releasing them into the wild. A large python can kill an adult alligator, according to the agency’s fact sheet.
The South Florida Water Management District, in 2006, requested that Burmese pythons be included on the USFWS injurious wildlife list under the Lacey Act, due to the high number of these snakes found on District properties.
The USFWS then requested information on boa, python and anaconda species in a 2008 notice of inquiry, which led to a 2010 proposed rule to list ten large constrictor species as injurious. In January 2012, the agency published a final rule that designated five of those species as injurious, and kept the remaining five species “under consideration,” according to Tuesday’s action.
The USFWS and the National Park Service requested that the U.S. Geological Survey prepare a document outlining information on the biological, management and invasion risk of these large snakes, which provided a major source of information used in the formulation of the final rules.
“Large constrictor snakes are costing the American public millions of dollars in damage and placing at risk 41 federally and state-listed threatened or endangered species in Florida alone,” USFWS Director Dan Ashe was quoted as saying in the agency’s statement.
The large snakes have been found to be highly adaptable to the climate in southern states, and climate change might widen the range they could easily inhabit.
The new regulation lists the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda as injurious under the Lacey Act, and removes the boa constrictor from consideration.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a major litigant on behalf of endangered species, criticized the USFWS for the omission of the boa in its response to the final rule.
“These exotic snakes pose an unacceptable, and preventable, risk to our nation’s most treasured natural habitats,” Collette Adkins, CBD attorney and biologist said. “Unfortunately, it appears that the agency caved to pressure from snake breeders in its decision not to restrict trade in the boa constrictor, a snake that is clearly damaging to U.S. wildlife.”
Boas have been found “on the loose” in 46 states, the agency said. The regulatory authority of the Lacey Act, limited to importation and interstate transport, is less effective in such circumstances. Instead, the agency has decided on an “experimental” approach with the boa, calling upon states, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (which represents North America’s state, territorial and provincial fish and wildlife agencies), and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and other industry groups to coordinate measures to control the boa problem.
“The [USFWS] recognizes that this is an untested approach and will monitor whether states and industry groups put in place effective measures to prevent the escape or release and establishment of boa constrictors,” the action noted. The agency says it will reevaluate the boa listing if this approach fails.
The new regulation will not affect pet snakes as long as they remain in the state where they currently live. Interstate transport would require a permit.
Information regarding ethical surrender of these snakes is available through local natural resources or fish and game agencies. The final rule is effective April 9.
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