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Environment

FWC Approves Banning Ownership, Commercial Use Of 16 Nonnative Species

An Argentine black and white tegu, a reptile, is  situated on the ground.
Bernard Dupont
/
Wikimedia Commons
More than 200 people called into the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s virtual meeting to share their thoughts on the banning of nonnative reptiles.

More than 200 people called into the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s virtual meeting to share their thoughts on the banning of nonnative reptiles.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission held a virtual meeting Thursday where they approved the prohibition of the ownership and commercial use of 16 out of 4,000 nonnative and invasive reptiles.

The rules, which were approved by a unanimous vote, apply to animals like the Argentine black and white tegu, Burmese python, and green iguana that are found to be “high-risk” to Florida’s environment and economy.

In her presentation to the commissioners before the vote, Melissa Tucker stressed that banning the commercial breeding and pet ownership of these reptiles is necessary.

“Commercial breeding for sale and pet ownership play a significant role in...increasing the number of individual animals that could escape,” the FWC’s Director of the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation said.

And once they do escape -- or are released into the wild -- they can do major damage.

Tegus, Tucker explained, have broad diets where they consume fruits, vegetables, alligator eggs and threatened gopher tortoise hatchlings.

Burmese pythons also have broad diets, consuming native mammals, birds, and some reptiles. Examples include the white-tail deer, the endangered Key Largo woodrat and the roseate spoonbill.

And green iguanas can degrade the integrity of important infrastructure with their burrowing behavior and consuming native plants that some native species rely on.

Tucker also said a 2005 study showed invasive species have a negative economic impact nationwide that exceeds $184 billion annually. That dollar amount is adjusted to 2021 costs.

For the management of the Argentine black and white tegu, she said “nearly $1 million is spent in managing the unregulated species.”

After the presentation, the commission provided the opportunity for people to speak.

More than 200 people called into the meeting to share their thoughts. The commission extended the public comment period from two hours to three, but many were still in line and weren’t able to speak when time expired.

Those who agreed with the proposal voiced reasons similar to what Tucker presented.

“About 80% of our mammal population has disappeared from Everglades National Park alone,” said Superintendent Pedro Ramos of the National Parks Foundation. “And now we are seeing the numbers and the size of the pythons coming out of places like Big Cypress National Preserve.”

Elise Bennett, an environmental attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, stated that the measures would reduce the risk of more escapes and releases into the wild.

“All Floridians are impacted by these highly invasive reptiles, whether they realize it or not,” said Bennett. “Aside from causing extensive damage to Florida’s unique natural landscapes, controlling these destructive animals costs taxpayers millions of dollars every year.”

Some opponents of the ban talked about their emotional ties to reptiles.

“They are more than just pets to me and to other people. This is my family,” reptile hobbyist Jasmine Avian said. “It’s like my sons and my daughters.”

Others said the ban would be damaging to the reptile job and rescue industry. Heather Hale is president of Hexxuss Reptile Rescue & Retirement Inc. in Tampa.

“If they didn't know that they could contact me and somebody hadn't said, ‘Hey, this person takes these animals,’ they would have just left those animals on the side of the road,” she said.

Before the vote, commissioners shared their own input.

“We got to put our foot down. I mean this, it's wrecking havoc within Florida. The time has come. We've given the industry ample opportunity,” said Chairman Rodney Barreto.

Current pet owners will be allowed to keep their animals, and the rule allows breeding of the animals through 2024.

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