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 Reptile Industry Calls for Congressional Oversight on US Fish & Wildlife Service

Reptile Industry Calls for Congressional Oversight on US Fish & Wildlife Service Rule Making


On 30 March 2011, US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) transmitted a Final Rule to the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) for review. If adopted, this rule would add nine constricting snakes to the Injurious Wildlife List of the Lacey Act, therefore preventing all movement in interstate commerce.

The United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) believes the proposed rule fails on both the science and the cost-benefit analysis. USARK believes that the "science" that is being fielded to justify this action is highly controversial, and the action shows complete disregard for due process and economic impact. If enacted this rule would destroy thousands of businesses and place nearly one million US citizens in jeopardy of becoming felons under the Lacey Act.

OMB review is required of all major rules to ensure that the economic burden does not outweigh the stated benefits of the rule. However the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy has reviewed the rule and stated unequivocally that the USFWS failed to conduct a comprehensive economic impact assessment, especially insofar as the rule would impact small businesses within the reptile industry. Furthermore, it is USARK’s belief that the purported benefits of the rule are based on controversial science and a failure to assess all available data.

We are, therefore, calling on the Office Of Management and Budget to do a thorough analysis of the proposed rule and, additionally, calling on the Congress to conduct adequate oversight to ensure due process to USARK and its members.

To summarize the history of this action: in 2007, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) petitioned the FWS to add Burmese pythons to the Injurious Wildlife list. After the 2008 publication of a fundamentally flawed climate-matching study authored by invasion-biologists in the US Geological Survey (USGS), FWS published a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to add snakes in the genera Python, Eunectes, and Boa to the Injurious Wildlife List. This was based, in large part, on sensational media coverage and unfounded claims that these animals are poised to expand across the southern third of the US. In 2009 the USGS produced another highly criticized and controversial internal report in the form of a Risk Assessment of nine constricting snakes (aka Constrictor Report). Based on this "unscientific" internal report, FWS issued a Proposed Rule to add these nine constrictors to the Lacey Act in 2010. In spite of an overwhelming number of critical comments from scientists, organizations and the public, as well as at least four contradicting scientific studies, FWS has now filed a Final Rule in 2011.

The data set on which the conclusions of the 2009 Constrictor Report are based has been demonstrated to be so mischaracterized as to suggest either incompetence or an intentional attempt at deception. Michael Cota, researcher at the Thailand National Natural History Museum, stated in his public comment to FWS, with specific reference to the USGS climate data set, "With a 60% error rate for just one country (Thailand), how many imaginary data sets were used for these reports?" The Constrictor Report is NOT a peer-reviewed scientific document. It is an internal report authored by strongly biased USGS biologists. In fact, a panel of 11 independent experts from the National Geographic Society, University of Florida, Texas A&M and others stated in a letter to the US Senate Environmental & Public Works Committee that this report was "not scientific", and "not suitable as the basis for regulatory of legislative policy decisions".

USARK detailed numerous mistakes, inaccuracies and exaggerations in the Constrictor Report in a 16 point Request for Correction with USGS under the Information Quality Act (IQA). This request was rejected out of hand. An appeal filed last summer is still pending.

USARK believes that FWS is attempting to make policy based on staff preference. It is clear that FWS decided on a policy direction and has worked to manufacture a case after the fact to support their decision. Tom Strickland, then Assistant Secretary of DOI, is quoted in a New York Times article indicating a bias in favor of the rule well in advance of the completion of the rule making process.

FWS has dramatically underestimated the impact this will have on thousands of small businesses and as many as one million American citizens. If enacted this rule making will create a new class of criminal out of law abiding citizens.

USARK believes the actions of FWS to be unwarranted and unjustified based on science and cost-benefit analysis. USARK President, Andrew Wyatt said, "I call on the US House Natural Resources Committee and White House OMB to give close scrutiny to what has been going on here. I believe FWS and USGS are in direct violation of the standards and due process required under the Administrative Procedures Act and Information Quality Act. An entire $1.4 billion cottage industry is at risk. This is about jobs and the economy, not the preference of bureaucrats at FWS."

04/12/11  08:47pm

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