Burmese Python: Dragon of the Everglades

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South Florida Burmese Python

The 2016 Python Challenge™ is moving at a record pace in south Florida. Sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the controversial python hunt, ostensibly to remove invasive snakes from the Everglades, produced a disappointing tally of only 68 snakes after 30 days of hunting in 2013. With cooler temperatures in south Florida, 100 pythons have already been taken in 2016. Hunters have capitalized on greater snake visibility as pythons bask openly in the sun to retain warmth. But is the hunt, slated to finish on Valentines Day, really for conservation or just a publicity stunt?

Raising the specter of giant pythons in the Everglades has become a media pastime in Florida. Clearly the appetite for this farfetched story is not easily sated. Lauded as some kind of invasive dragon devouring endangered wildlife and family pets alike, the Burmese python has become the stuff of folklore and myth: a modern day Jaws. A myth promulgated by environmental groups, invasion biologists and the press. Pythons being slain by champions eager to battle dark denizens for the ecological life of the Everglades has become a symbolic narrative that politicians have adopted and regurgitated for their own political purposes.

There is no denying that there are tens of thousands of Burmese pythons in the Everglades, but that’s far fewer than the 100’s of thousands touted by the likes of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson or Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While pythons are certainly eating rabbits, rats, feral cats and an occasional small gator, what many people don’t realize, is that pythons don’t eat every day like a warm blooded predator. They may only eat a handful of times per year; hardly the “resource hogs” depicted by some biologists.

“Cold temperatures killed thousands of pythons in the Winter of 2009-2010. Numbers appear to be rebounding, but pythons are not being found as readily as they were. The population peaked in Summer of 2009 with highs estimated to be 30,000- 40,000 pythons.” — Shawn Heflick, Biologist and star of NatGeo WILD’s: The Python Hunters

Another part and parcel of the myth is the notion that pythons have no natural predators in the glades. Nothing to temper an unabated population growth, a notion that is patently false. Any biologist worth his salt can tell you, there are dozens of potential predators for pythons in south Florida. Baby pythons are extremely vulnerable to hawks and eagles, wading birds, predatory fish, raccoons, feral hogs, feral cats, not to mention the apex predator of the Everglades, the American alligator, which preys even on adult pythons.

The exaggeration of every detail surrounding the presence of pythons in the glades further clouds the facts. For a variety of reasons the press and the pundits seem invested in demonizing the python. The press loves the idea of a giant snake in the glades “eating everything in its path.” Clearly the public has a morbid fascination with snakes that kindles a primal fear. Environmentalists and agency personnel see opportunity to increase funding for invasive, and or endangered species research not stimulated by less sensational problems. Ambitious biologists seem to bank on decades of pythons study and research in their future. Politicians vilify the snake as a threat that can only be overcome with the appropriation of billions in Everglades restoration dollars. It is a rich issue with a handout for nearly everyone.

“… many are content to chase the ‘Burmese Dragon’ around south Florida like Don Quixote chasing windmills.” — Andrew Wyatt

But the reality is this: Burmese pythons are a relatively low rung on the ladder of serious problems facing the Everglades. They have become a red herring, a distraction, and a scapegoat from more fundamental problems that are either too contentious or too difficult to deal with. Instead of addressing issues surrounding big sugar, pollution, water flow or other more pervasive invasive species threats, many are content to chase the ‘Burmese Dragon’ around south Florida like Don Quixote chasing windmills.

Hunting invasive pythons, although not without merit, is not being pursued in earnest. The National Park Service (NPS) will not allow pythons to be hunted at the epicenter of the population in the Everglades National Park (ENP). Ironically, the NPS appears to be protecting those pythons in order to preserve a study group for ongoing research. For the hunts to be effective, they should be conducted in the ENP in an open and ongoing basis. For now, hunts are restricted to state lands around the periphery of the park, and are limited to 30 days every few years.

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Vendors selling snakeskin wallets and belts at the 2016 Python Challenge™

The actual 2016 Python Challenge™ takes on an air more commensurate with a rattlesnake round-up or a reality TV show, than an environmental clean-up. It attracts colorful characters from all over the country to ‘hunt’ the dreaded pythons. Vendors have booths and sell t-shirts, snakeskin wallets and belt buckles. There’s funnel cake and BBQ. FWC is omni-present “educating” the public about the dangers of large pythons, how to identify them, wrangle them, and how to report them. But one has to wonder if the purpose is conservation or carnival.

While some concerns regarding invasive pythons are legitimate, the dramatic characterization placing pythons at the center of all of the Everglades ecological troubles is way overblown. Efforts to reduce the population via the Python Challenge are ineffective and disingenuous. Python population will never be significantly reduced unless the hunt is conducted at the epicenter of the invasion in the heart of the ENP. Allowing an open season within the park is the only way to actually reduce numbers through hunting. This ‘Dragon’ hunt  can hardly be seen as anything but a side show, while the decline of the Everglades goes on with or without the Burmese python circus.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant working exclusively in the wildlife sector. He formerly served as the CEO of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) where he twice testified before congress as an expert on python issues. Andrew has been interviewed on National Public Radio, by Bloomberg and by The New York Times.

FWS Lists 201 Salamanders as Injurious

Captive Bred Chinese Fire-bellied Newt

Captive Bred Chinese Fire-bellied Newt

Utilizing the recently enacted Categorical Exclusion, or CatX, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will short-cut procedural checks and balances previously mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Tomorrow FWS will publish an interim rule in the Federal Register adding 201 salamander species to the “Injurious Wildlife” list. The rule will be enacted without the necessity of FWS to submit an Environmental Assessment (EA), or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under NEPA.

The new rule adding many salamanders to the Injurious list will be enacted as of January 28, 2016, and would have been logistically impossible without the enactment of CatX late last year. After January 28th, import or interstate transport of listed salamanders, without a rigorous federal permit, will be prohibited.

Why is FWS listing Salamanders as Injurious?

To help prevent a deadly fungus from killing native salamanders, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is publishing an interim rule tomorrow to list 201 salamander species as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act. The fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, also known as Bsal or salamander chytrid, is carried on the skin of various salamander species. Bsal has caused major die-offs of salamanders in Europe and poses an imminent threat to U.S. native salamander populations. — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

While justification for the unprecedented move is not without merit, it bears noting that Bsal has never been found in the U.S., and there has been no evidence of a connection between the spread of Bsal and herpetoculture; the captive production of reptiles and amphibians. Last year, Zoos and the pet industry voluntarily agreed to suspend imports of salamanders into the U.S., increasing speculation regarding FWS’ motivations for the listing. Some will certainly conclude that this move is less about stopping Bsal, and  more about establishing CatX in the law for more liberal future use.

Impact to Herpetoculture
Herpetoculturists will no longer be able to import listed species into the U.S., nor will they be allowed to conduct interstate commerce with captive bred specimens. Regulatory hurdles were put in place for a reason, to avoid arbitrary decision making by agency personnel, and to protect American citizens, business owners and organizations from being run over by their own government. This salamander listing appears to be more about testing the waters for future application of CatX, than stopping Bsal. CatX sets a poor precedent for process and fairness in the regulatory environment. Now that it has been established in the law, stakeholders may be dealing with the consequences of CatX for years to come.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector. 

WyattP2“The Lacey Act and other wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in working with clients to employ campaign style tactics to change hearts and minds on vital issues in the wildlife sector. Please follow The Last Word for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of running a targeted issue campaign, and/or a comprehensive government affairs strategy, please call or email me.” ~ Andrew Wyatt


© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

CatX — Quiet Storm of Lacey Act Overreach

Captive Bred Reticulated Python

Captive Bred Reticulated Python

In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has empowered itself to shortcut the rule making process under the Lacey Act in order to more easily and arbitrarily declare “Injurious Wildlife” listings, and making way for the potential mass listing of species. Known as CatX, this newly enacted rule will negatively impact zoos and aquariums, research facilities, TV and film, aquaculture, herpetoculture, and the pet trade.

What is a Categorical Exclusion (CatX)?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) states:
A categorical exclusion is a class of actions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment. Under NEPA, Federal agencies are required to consider the potential environmental impact of agency actions prior to implementation. Agencies are then generally required to prepare either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). However, when a Federal agency identifies classes of actions that under normal circumstances do not have a potentially significant environmental impact, either individually or cumulatively, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations allow the agency to establish a categorical exclusion and to bypass the completion of an EA or an EIS when undertaking those actions.

On October 29, 2015, the FWS quietly enacted a categorical exclusion (CatX), “streamlining” the rule making process necessary to list species as “injurious” under the Lacey Act. FWS will no longer be required to provide an Environmental Assessment (EA), or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as supplementary documentation required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Although seemingly innocuous, CatX removes a great deal of due process protections required by NEPA, and could spell disaster to businesses and institutions targeted by FWS.

Under the Lacey Act, importation and interstate transport of animal species determined to be injurious is prohibited without a federal permit.

What does CatX mean for you?
CatX relieves FWS of the requirement to consider economic and social impacts as part of the “human environment” under NEPA. While not every listing decision under the Lacey Act will have significant economic and social impacts, some listings would affect broad segments of the economy and millions of citizens across every state.USFWSlogo-250x300

For example, the recent listing of four constrictor snakes as injurious species has had crippling economic impacts. (Four additional species have been listed, but that action has been stayed by a court injunction.) According to FWS’s own economic analysis, the “annual retail sales losses for” listing the four constrictor snakes “are estimated to range from $3.7 million to $7.6 million.” Herpetoculture industry estimates range as high as, “$76 million to $104 million,” with much of this impact falling disproportionately on small businesses.

These impacts on the “human environment” will only worsen now that FWS has finalized CatX and applies it forward. FWS maintains an “extraordinary circumstances” exception to CatX. However that exception doesn’t include in its criteria, actions with high economic impacts. The careful consideration of economic impacts, which is currently required by NEPA, is especially important in Lacey Act decisions because the act, on its own, doesn’t explicitly require FWS to consider economic impacts in listing or permitting decisions.

Why did U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enact CatX?
From all appearances, FWS intends to use CatX as a tool to pursue mass listing of species as injurious. Prior to CatX, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to enact large scale listings. This rule modification could signal difficulty, not only for businesses, but for researchers and institutions that work with commercially viable species that may be targeted. The difficulty in procuring permits necessary to transport listed species across state lines will significantly increase costs to already beleaguered and underfunded research and educational programs. And because of the low priority FWS places on resources and staff for an already taxed permitting process, the listing en masse of species will likely result in an ever increasing backlog of permit applications.

History of CatX
— July 1, 2013- FWS publishes an announcement in the Federal Register of their intention to streamline the listing process to add “injurious” species to the Lacey Act by removing NEPA requirements.
July 17, 2013- U.S. Herpetoculture Alliance leads a coalition of small business stakeholders and zoological associations to Washington, DC for meetings with the Small Business Administration and Congressional leadership to secure support for opposing CatX.
July 31, 2013- closes initial Public Comment period.
January 21, 2014- reopens Public Comment period.
February 21, 2014- closes final Public Comment period.
October 29, 2015- FWS publishes the final rule in the Federal Register to add a categorical exclusion (CatX) for listing species as “injurious wildlife” under the Lacey Act.

George Sugiyama, former Chief Minority Counsel, Senate EPW ~ Troutman Sanders

George Sugiyama, former Chief Minority Counsel, Senate EPW ~ Troutman Sanders

USARK Lawsuit Challenging Authority of the Lacey Act to Prohibit Interstate Transport — In 2011, when I was CEO of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK), I led the fight against the listing of nine constrictor snakes as injurious under the Lacey Act. During the course of many visits to Capitol Hill, I met with George Sugiyama, Chief Minority Counsel for the Senate Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee. Mr. Sugiyama suggested to me, that in his legal opinion, FWS under the Lacey Act, did not have the authority to restrict interstate transport of species listed as injurious. I loved the simplicity of his argument and directed USARK’s counsel to further research and vet the idea. Subsequently, we hatched a plan, and created a blueprint for a lawsuit challenging the FWS’ authority to regulate interstate transport. USARK filed that lawsuit against Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (USARK v. Jewell et al.) in the Federal District Court of Washington, DC about 11 months after I left the organization, in December of 2013. Final briefs are due February 22, 2016. Oral arguments will follow.

If USARK is successful challenging the authority of FWS to regulate interstate transport, the threat of CatX to zoos, herpetoculture, etc. will largely be negated. If FWS has no authority to regulate interstate transport, they cannot require a permit to do so. However, if the lawsuit fails outright, or on appeal, FWS will be in a position to list species arbitrarily and en masse, disrupting the ability of interested parties to move listed species across state lines, and wreaking economic havoc.

All Amphibians to be Listed as Injurious?
On September 17, 2010 the FWS published a Notice of Inquiry in the Federal Register “To List All Live Amphibians in Trade as Injurious.” The consensus has been that the process would be far too labor intensive and costly for FWS to list all amphibians in a single rule making. However, with the recent enactment of CatX, FWS could “streamline” the process necessary for a mass listing of species. Consider this aggressive timeline since last Spring:

  • May 14, 2015– Center for Biological Diversity and SAVE THE FROGS presents a petition to FWS to, “Institute an Emergency Moratorium on Imports of All Live Salamanders,” and “To List All Live Salamanders in Trade as Injurious.” The petition cites the highly controversial “Broken Screens” report from the Defenders of Wildlife, and the more recent Martel et al., 2014, published in Science Magazine.
  • August 10, 2015– FWS closes the Public Comment period on their Salamander Peer Review Plan to list salamanders as “injurious.”
  • October 29, 2015– CatX is enacted to “streamline” the process for listing “Injurious Wildlife” under the Lacey Act by removing NEPA requirements.

It appears that a proposed rule listing multiple amphibian species is forthcoming. CatX would put any rule on the regulatory fast track.

Conclusion
Regardless of the outcome of USARK v. Jewell et al., or a potential amphibian listing, it is clear that FWS is comfortable taking actions that shortcut accepted administrative procedures and NEPA, in order to realize their own politicized agenda. Regulatory hurdles were put in place for a reason, to avoid arbitrary decision making by agency personnel, and to protect American citizens, business owners and organizations from being run over by their own government. CatX sets a poor precedent for due process/fairness in the regulatory environment. Stakeholders may be dealing with the consequences of this ill-gotten rule for years to come.

“I welcome questions below in the comment section. I’m  always happy to clear confusion resulting from the actions of FWS, or potential implications for you. Let me know.” ~Andrew


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.

WyattP2“The Lacey Act and other wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in working with clients to employ campaign style tactics to change hearts and minds on vital issues in the wildlife sector. Please follow The Last Word for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of running a targeted issue campaign, and/or a comprehensive government affairs strategy, please call or email me.” ~ Andrew Wyatt


© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Black Rhino Hunt: Conservation Controversy

One Black Rhino May Help Save All Of The Rest

One Black Rhino May Help Save All Of The Rest

How hunting a critically endangered black rhino will greatly benefit conservation of the species.

Last January the Dallas Safari Club (DSC), auctioned off a permit issued by the government of Namibia to hunt a black rhino. Namibia is legally permitted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to sell five permits for the hunting of adult male black rhinos each year. The Namibian government has identified a small number of individual black rhinos that may be hunted that are old, incapable of breeding and pose a threat to other younger animals.

A prominent hunter and conservationist, Corey Knowlton, submitted the winning bid of $350,000 at the auction and subsequently applied to FWS for a permit to import the trophy into the US. DSC plans to donate the entire proceeds of the auction to benefit conservation of the black rhino species (Diceros bicornis).

The debate over the value of a black rhino hunt that would raise $350,000 for rhino conservation efforts in Namibia has heated to the boiling point once again. The question of whether the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) will issue a permit to import a black rhino trophy into the US is at the forefront of this debate. Anti-hunting animal rights groups that vehemently oppose the hunt are using the power of their grass roots followers to pressure FWS to deny issue of the permit.

Reports from the Namibian government suggest that an older non-breeding male rhino that is disruptive to the herd, will be selected. It is important to note that this rhino will likely be culled regardless of whether FWS issues the import permit or not. If the permit is denied DSC plans to refund Mr. Knowlton’s winning $350,000 bid.  If that happens, the rhino’s life will not be saved, and the conservation efforts in Namibia will not receive the $350,000.

According to FWS spokesman Gavin Shire, FWS is ‘applying “extra scrutiny” to Knowlton’s request because of the rise in poaching.’ By all accounts, although there was a rise in the numbers of poached white rhinos in South Africa, the overall population of black rhinos has been on the rise for a number of years.

“Thanks to successful conservation and anti-poaching efforts, the total number of black rhinos has grown…” ~ World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Anti-hunting groups have long argued that hunting and poaching are indistinguishable. However, it is clear that this is a position driven by ideology. The reality is that hunting is legal and supports conservation. Poaching is a criminal activity that undermines conservation. What is unclear from the FWS statement, is how an unrelated rise in poaching arbitrarily dictates “extra scrutiny” toward the issuance of an import permit for a legal rhino hunt.

“Hunting isn’t conservation” ~ Jeffrey Flocken, North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

Additionally, animal rights groups argue that money spent on hunting in Africa never reaches local communities or conservation, but according to a report from TRAFFIC, the organization that works with the WWF, IUCN, and CITES to track the international trade of wildlife, US hunters spend $11 million annually in Namibia on controlled, legal hunts. Further, if allowed by the US government, the $350,000 proceeds from this one single hunt would go exclusively to black rhino conservation in Namibia.

Those that are opposed to hunting are predisposed to object to any hunting based conservation model. Ideology aside, there is no doubt that millions of dollars are injected into the Namibian economy every year as the direct result of hunting. For FWS to deny issuing an import permit based on misinformation and pressure from special interests, would not only be a disservice to processing a legitimate permit application, but it would block $350,000 earmarked for black rhino conservation efforts.

“Sport hunting of Namibia’s black rhino population will strongly contribute to the enhancement of the survival of the species…” ~ World Wildlife Fund

Yesterday on the IFAW Facebook page, the animal rights organization was exhorting their followers to “Save One Black Rhino” by pressuring FWS to deny import permits. The fact remains that the rhino in question will likely be culled regardless of the decision of FWS. Wouldn’t it be better to allow Mr. Knowlton to hunt the rhino and import the trophy so that the auction money can go to rhino conservation? Preventing Mr. Knowlton’s hunt will accomplish only one thing:  it will prevent black rhino conservation in Namibia from receiving a $350,000 donation.  All real conservation happens at the species level. The survival of critically endangered black rhinos should not be held hostage to special interest politics.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.

WyattP2“Endangered species conservation and other wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in working with clients to employ campaign style tactics to change hearts and minds on vital issues in the wildlife sector. Please follow The Last Word for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of running a targeted issue campaign, and/or a comprehensive government affairs strategy, please call or email me.” ~ Andrew Wyatt


© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Animal Rights – Fundraising Wrongs ~ Part I

Images of abused or horribly disfigured animals have become the peta-porn of the animal rights industry

Images of abused, disfigured or dead animals termed “Peta-Porn” are a manipulative tool of the animal rights industry ~ PeTA Fundraising Graphic

A Shocking Deception

The trend of shock value advertising by animal rights organizations began with PeTA in the early 1980’s and their graphic photos of vivisection on monkeys. Since then, the animal rights industry has devolved from protecting animals into slickly managed, no-holds-barred, fundraising machines. The object of the exercise is not to help animal shelters and rescues that are desperate for resources, but rather an aggressive “bait and switch” diversion of donations to fat pension funds, legislation, litigation and propaganda targeting prohibitions against a broad spectrum of animal interests to which they are ideologically opposed, primarily food production, zoos, circuses and hunting. Meanwhile, the puppies and kittens whose images they peddle under the false pretenses of rescue seem a low priority consideration.

So called animal advocates seeking to escape the stigma associated with the term ‘animal rights’ have taken to calling themselves ‘animal protection’ groups. The names may be different, but the ideology is the same. These groups oppose all animals in captivity, hunting and/or any kind of animal use. This is the premise used to raise money from their fanatical base. However, these groups are now using graphic images of horrifically maimed, injured or dead animals in fundraising campaigns to appeal to the mainstream public. I call this strategy Peta-Porn, and its use is escalating, fueled by the power of social media. Painting with the broad brush of righteous indignation, they depict any kind of human-animal interaction as exploitation.

Americans love animals. They love their pets, and they love wildlife. Animal rights organizations, now pinning themselves with the moniker of “animal protection,” have learned that grotesque photos of abused animals (Peta-Porn) coupled with sensationalized often untrue stories, can open the flood gates for donations from the animal loving American public. Ed Sayres, the former CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) road on PeTA’s coat tails to justify his own $500,000-plus annual paycheck. Remember the horrible TV commercials with photos of tortured and disfigured dogs and cats (Peta-Porn) accompanied by sad music and an urgent plea for money? Now many animal rights groups appear to be emulating this model in aggressive TV, email and social media campaigns.

The animal rights appetite for this disgusting brand of porn seems to mirror the appetites of sexual pornography addicts. As the public becomes habituated to increasingly violent images of abused animals, the frequency and brutality of Peta-Porn continues to escalate. Everyone finds these images shocking. However, many become highly agitated and even violently angry after viewing Peta-Porn. The vitriol in comments on animal rights blogs and social media pages is full of threats and hatred. Peta-Porn is now a component of almost every social media newsfeed in the country. The trend and dark purpose is truly disturbing.

“A lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies.” ~Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the largest animal rights organization in the world, spends less than 2% of it $165 million annual budget on animal shelters. They spend over $80 million annually impacting legislation and fundraising.

Organizations like HSUS, Born Free USA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) touting themselves as animal “protection” organizations, have cast their net wide to snare every high profile animal issue that grabs the headlines and turns American stomachs. They have been actively exploiting highly charged animal issues such as elephant poaching and dog fighting; and make no mistake, it has become a fundraising jackpot. They raise hundreds of millions of dollars, but often they use extremely deceptive marketing to reach their fundraising goals.

*When you see Peta-Porn on Facebook or Twitter ~ Tag It! ==> #PetaPorn


WyattP2

Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.

“Animal Rights and other wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in working with clients to employ campaign style tactics to change hearts and minds on vital issues in the wildlife sector. Please follow The Last Word for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of running a targeted issue campaign, and/or a comprehensive government affairs strategy, please call or email me.” ~ Andrew Wyatt


 

© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Blood Ivory and More Dead Elephants

As written for National Geographic: A Voice For Elephants

NationalGeographic_1045732-600x395

Photograph by Bruce Dale/National Geographic Creative

By Andrew Wyatt and Doug Bandow

Nothing embodies the power and majesty of wild Africa like the iconic elephant. Tragically, across the continent you can see the devastating impact poaching has had on this keystone species. “Blood ivory” poachers ply their trade from the killing fields of the African savanna to the major markets in Asia. Decades of poor policy have resulted in dead elephants littering the African landscape.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration is making policy even worse. It is calling for more “ivory crush,” the destruction of existing ivory stores, and a ban on the legal trade of ivory within the United States. These proposals reflect a desperate misunderstanding of the illegal market and will only accelerate the slaughter of African elephants.

For instance, in early April Belgium joined the U.S., China, and host of other nations in the growing Ivory crush movement—supposedly to “send a warning” to ivory poachers. Alas, decreasing the world’s stockpile of ivory actually drives prices for blood ivory upward, thereby increasing profits for sophisticated poaching syndicates.

In early February, the Obama administration introduced the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. Two weeks later, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it would effectively ban all domestic ivory sales, even of antique objects. This step would punish the law-abiding while encouraging them to look for illegal outlets for their collections and inventories.

Unfortunately, the administration is playing the politics of deception, or at least deliberate misinformation. There is no doubt that poaching poses a threat to thousands of African elephants. But exaggerating claims for political advantage interferes with developing an effective conservation strategy.

FWS Director Dan Ashe and others have been circulating misleading information on elephant deaths, poaching, and the illegal ivory trade to advance an ideological agenda rather than to protect elephants. Among the more serious errors: “More than 35,000 elephants were killed in 2013 for the illegal ivory trade.” According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) program of Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), 25,000 elephants were illegally killed in Africa in 2011 and 22,000 were killed in 2012. While still unacceptably high, it is far less than the 35,000 (with some claims hitting 50,000) that has become the rallying cry for those campaigning to ban even old, legal ivory sales.

Moreover, not all of these elephants were killed by poachers. Many were killed by farmers and villagers, for whom elephants are dangerous pests. The World Wildlife Fund estimates elephants killed for their tusks at approximately 20,000 per year. The figures for 2013 have not yet been released, but probably are of the same magnitude as before. In fact, John Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General, recently stated that he saw “encouraging signs” that poaching may be stabilizing.

“The United States is the second-largest market for ivory in the world.” This statement, although true, is misleading. According to a study of domestic ivory trade by two wildlife specialists entitled The USA’s Ivory Markets—How Much a Threat to Elephants?: “The USA has the second-largest ivory market in the world, after China-Hong Kong. The illegal proportion of it, however, is much smaller than any country in Asia and most countries in Africa. The USA ivory market poses a minimal threat to elephants.” FWS spokeswoman Sandra Cleva said: “The vast majority of U.S. seizures involve small non-commercial quantities, a fact that refutes the claim that large-scale illegal ivory trade exists in the United States.” According to the monitoring network TRAFFIC, Thailand is actually the second-largest market for illegal ivory in the world.

The fact that supposedly responsible government officials knowingly mislead the public demonstrates how the ivory debate has become politicized, with an emphasis on symbolism rather than solutions. Fighting poaching and stemming the flow of “blood ivory” is difficult. It is far easier to feign empathy by punishing the innocent owners of ivory objects, even if decades or centuries old.

The Ivory crush is merely foolish, inflating illegal ivory prices and denying revenues to the developing states that contain most elephants. Worse is the plan to render legally valueless virtually every piece of ivory in America, even though accumulated over many years in compliance with the law.

The administration already has barred the import of ivory, even if centuries old with peerless provenance, punishing American collectors and dealers. Craftsmen repairing or working with old and legal raw ivory could lose their livelihoods. Owners of vintage musical instruments and guns are prohibited from leaving and returning to the U.S. with them.

Any item containing a tiny fleck of ivory in it could trigger federal legal action. The administration said it will not target “knick-knacks,” but people with hundreds, thousands, or millions of dollars worth of ivories will find no legal buyers, since the administration plans to require documentation that does not exist. And the easiest way for FWS employees to boost their enforcement statistics would be to target confused collectors and dealers rather than accomplished criminals who operate in the shadows.

Obvious alternatives exist. Any plan should target poachers and their U.S. contacts. FWS should enlist legitimate collectors and dealers in helping to uncover the illegal trade, rather than treat the law-abiding as enemies. FWS could issue a “passport” for musicians and gun owners to carry their possessions back and forth. If the agency—with the consent of Congress, rather than in a secretive rule-making process—is determined to more clearly delineate old legal ivory, it could phase in a registration system for legal ivory objects.

Those who own and work in ivory are as appalled as everyone else about the slaughter of elephants for their tusks. But the policy adopted should actually achieve its end, rather than encourage the trade in “blood ivory.” Moreover, the government should not punish law abiding, tax paying citizens who followed long-standing law in accumulating ivory. Federal policy should be both effective and fair.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs consultant who works exclusively in the wildlife sector and is a founder of USARK U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers. Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.


As written for National Geographic: A Voice For Elephants

 

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

This article has been re-posted from the US Herpetoculture Alliance at http://usherp.org/?p=3137

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.

photo: USGS- Green Anaconda

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 Snake As Injurious Wildlife

US Fish & Wildlife Service Seeks To Add More Snake As Injurious Wildlife

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, December 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. 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.