State of the Reptile Nation

2009 was the most challenging year in the history of the reptile community. The combination of poor quality “science”, federal legislative proposals and unprecedented media sensation all swirling around the Burmese python came together as a perfect storm bearing down on the Reptile Nation! Ambitious politicians, self serving scientists and irresponsible journalists turned a moderate problem localized in the very southern tip of Florida into a national python frenzy. The specter of a giant snake in the Everglades poised to expand across the southern third of the United States was a fairytale that played so fast and sexy in the media journalists couldn’t stop themselves from perpetuating it. Politicians and even scientists proffered misinformation and wild rhetoric as if it were truth. The article in the December 2009 issue of Playboy Magazine entitled The Great South Florida Python Scare seemed to be the only media story that saw through this epic fairytale. For USARK and the Reptile Nation we will remember it as “The Year of the Python”.

Senator Bill Nelson (D) Florida Testifies at Senate EPW Hearing

Even as we enjoy success in the political arena, the focus will now shift to the regulatory side:
Last April USARK and the Reptile Nation spearheaded a grass roots effort generating almost 50,000 individual written letters to the House Committee on Natural Resources derailing HR669 the Non-native Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act. HR2811 and S373, companion bills in the US House and Senate (aka ‘The Python Ban’), have lost momentum. Again USARK and the Reptile Nation led a blockbuster grass roots campaign that more than doubled the number of individuals that participated against HR669. We also enjoyed the support of the US Chamber of Commerce and a panel of 11 highly respected scientists. We set up high level meetings between Congressional members and constituents convincing a bipartisan group of Senators and Congressmen of the merits of our case. The Python Ban is not officially dead, but it has lost its forward momentum.
The announcement by Interior Secretary Salazar that USFWS will post a proposed ‘Rule Change’ to the Injurious Wildlife list in the Federal Register in early February signals the greatest challenge for the Reptile Industry to date. This is not a ‘Notice of Inquiry’. That occurred in 2008. This is the end game of ‘Rule Change’. Addressing this threat will be labor intensive, but we have positioned ourselves to succeed if we do the work. This is exactly what USARK has asked for; to be able to address potential Lacey Act amendments through the established process of ‘Rule Change’. We now have the opportunity to build on our political success. Make no mistake, if we don’t pull together as an industry to meet this threat ALL 9 species (including Boa constrictor) outlined by USGS will be listed on the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act. It is time to put petty bickering aside and work together as never before. USARK will continue to provide the kind of hands on leadership to the Reptile Nation that our members have come to expect.

USARK Named in 25 to Watch in 2010 by Pet Product News International:
The following is a reprint from Pet Product News. To read all the reviews please follow the link:
Andrew Wyatt: As driving force behind hobbyist organization USARK, Wyatt raised his profile this year passionately attacking anti-reptile legislation, notably efforts to curtail trade in non-native species and to ban pythons, in Washington, D.C. His profile could increase further as additional laws restricting reptile ownership are proposed, especially if industry groups such as PIJAC or APPA are unwilling or unable to speak up. (Editor’s Note: Andrew Wyatt blogs regularly for sister website Click here to read his blog: )

State Legislation:
USARK and the Reptile Nation engaged multiple State Legislative Initiatives and regulatory proposal with great success. The formula is simple and effective.
1. Engage leadership.
2. Provide policy initiatives.
3. Activate grass roots support.
Additionally USARK has created Model State Legislation. The original document was written for North Carolina by NC Partners in Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (NCPARC) and Andrew Wyatt. It was then modified by Andrew Wyatt for use as a model in any state. Click here to read: USARK does not simply report on bills or hearings. We fully engage and either endorse or oppose with direct action.
• Missouri- Amended dangerous animal legislation by engaging bill sponsor. All reptiles subsequently removed from bill proposal.
• Maine- Worked with Maine Herp Society to amend state “White List” limiting number of species legal to work with; expanded list by 50 species.
• Connecticut- Amended dangerous animal legislation by engaging Committee Staff. All reptiles subsequently removed from bill proposal.
• North Carolina- Passed USARK Model State Legislation into law. Law requires secure caging, public & environmental safety protocols. NO Permit, NO Fees, NO Registration, NO Micro-chipping.
• California- Amended animal sales legislation. Mounted massive grass roots campaign opposing language directed toward Reptile Shows (over 5000 emails). All language addressing reptile shows removed by Committee Staff. Bill passed but vetoed by Governor.
• Texas- Supported Herp Conservation Unlimited (HCU) bill to repeal Road Cruising Ban enacted in last legislative session. Mounted grass roots campaign endorsing bill. Bill Failed.
• Florida- Averted FWC Commissioners vote to ban all Reptiles of Concern. Engaged FWC Commissioners and Staff. Mounted Massive grass roots campaign aimed toward Commissioners opposing regulatory change (over 8000 emails). Testified at FWC Commissioners meeting recommending caution. Issue was tabled.
• South Carolina- USARK Model State Legislation introduced in 2010 legislative session. Engaged with Staff to amend to better suit concerns of SC keepers.
• Virginia- Engaged with Delegate to possibly introduce USARK Model State Legislation.
• Georgia- Defeated bill proposal for prohibitive Permit System. Engaged bill sponsor, Committee Leadership, and Committee Staff. Submitted proposal for Committee Substitute. Gained favor with Staff and Committee Leadership. Mounted grass roots campaign. Proposal rejected by bill sponsor. Committee voted to kill bill.

Federal Legislation:
USARK spent a significant amount of time, money and effort fighting 3 federal bills. We hired two Washington, DC consulting firms that provided political as well as policy advice. Our Senior advisors include former Deputy Secretary of the National Park Service, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of the Interior and former US House Committee on Natural Resources Staff. The relationships cultivated over many years on “The Hill” were crucial to USARK gaining entre to the highest levels of Congress. Communicating directly with high level staffers and members allowed USARK to message effectively without being filtered by low level “gatekeepers”.

USARK meets directly with Senator Ben Cardin (D) Maryland
1. HR669- Non-native Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act- Prohibit import, export, interstate transport, purchase, sale, trade or breeding of most all animals non-native to the United States except dogs, cats, goldfish and traditional livestock. – USARK engaged full Committee Chairman opposing bill. Mounted massive grass roots campaign generating almost 50,000 individual letters to committee. Attended hearing and submitted written testimony for the record. Committee Chairman directs Subcommittee Chair to pull bill. HR669 loses all momentum and dies in Committee. USARK issues Victory Over HR669 Press Release.
2. HR2811- House Python Ban- Add all 40 python species to Injurious Wildlife list of Lacey Act banning import and interstate transport.
• Engaged bill sponsor, co-sponsor and Committee Staff opposing bill.
• Asked for amendment to remove 39 species from bill and allow for interstate transport.
• Bill amended at mark-up limiting bill to 2 species with no provision for interstate transport. Continued to oppose bill.
• Mounted grass roots phone campaign opposing bill.
• Engaged ranking member to avert floor vote and force full hearing.
• Met with bill co-sponsor Chief of Staff opposing bill.
• Provided Reptile Industry Economic Report to Congressional Budget Office.
• Provided expert economic and scientific testimony on behalf of Reptile Industry opposing HR2811 at Committee Hearing.
• Facilitated letter from coalition of scientists questioning report used as justification for HR2811.
• Bill voted out of Committee as amended at mark-up.
3. S373- Senate Python Ban- Add all 40 python species to Injurious Wildlife list of Lacey Act banning import and interstate transport.
• Engaged bill sponsor and Committee Staff opposing bill.
• Mounted grass roots phone campaign opposing bill.
• Met with bill sponsor Chief of Staff opposing bill. Secured agreement to limit bill and not allow it be used as a tool of special interests to destroy Reptile Industry.
• Secured letter from US Chamber of Commerce opposing S373.
• Facilitated letter from coalition of scientists questioning report used as justification for S373.
• Facilitated face to face constituent/ member meetings in home states and on “The Hill”. At least 11 Senators oppose the S373.
• 2nd meeting with bill sponsor Chief of Staff. Reiterated agreement to limit bill.
• Attended hearing where USFWS recommends bill be amended to include the 9 snakes listed USGS report.
• Receive letter from bill sponsor indicating agreement to limit bill will not be honored.
• At mark-up bill amended to 9 snakes in USGS report including Boa constrictor. Voted out of Committee.
• Provided Reptile Industry Economic Report to Congressional Budget Office.
• Mounted blockbuster grass roots letter writing campaign opposing S373 (more than double the number of people from HR669 campaign).
• Personal constituent meeting with Committee Chairman in Washington DC. Agreed that science should trump political expediency. The Senator agreed to speak with the bill’s sponsor, the Ranking Member and Committee Staff about the future of S373.
Our ability to establish the Reptile Industry as an economic concern in 2009 was precedent setting. The Reptile Nation is now regarded as a $3 billion a year economic engine with ties to all levels of economies. The US is responsible for 82% of the captive bred trade in reptiles worldwide. Be ready to face the Challenge of ‘Rule Change’ in 2010!