State adds 16 non-native reptile species to ban list

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (News Service of Florida) – Commercial breeding of non-native tegu lizards and green iguanas in Florida will end in three years despite objections from reptile dealers and owners warning of the potential destruction of their industry.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to add 16 reptiles to a prohibited species list, including several species of pythons, green iguanas and all species of tegu lizards.

Commissioner Robert Spottswood said the “high risk” of environmental and ecological damage from invasive species that are released or become detached into the wild outweighs the hardships “imposed on the business community as well as enthusiasts”.

“These animals do a lot of damage,” Spottswood said. “It is up to us to deal with it and do something about it. It may not be perfect, but it’s the best I’ve ever seen.

Commissioner Rodney Barreto said now was the time for a “bold stance”, after a process that also included the commission holding 10 three-hour workshops on the proposal and more than 4,000 people submitting written comments.

“We have to put our foot down,” Barreto said. “It is wreaking havoc in Florida. People move to Florida, why? They move here for our environment, our beaches, our lakes.

Reptile owners and dealers, asking for more time to work with commission staffers on the changes, argued that designation as a prohibited species would destroy the industry, create an underground reptile market, and would not be efficient.

“What I’m struggling with is that I don’t think it’s going to work,” April Linkfield of Olympian Exotics told Brooksville. “The animals are already there. It really doesn’t solve that. You cannot contain it yourselves. You said so in your own presentation. And honestly, we are better at it. And if you worked with us a bit, I think you would find out.

The plan will in part allow pet owners to keep tegu lizards and green iguanas for as long as the animals live. However, pet owners must obtain permits free of charge and can no longer acquire these reptiles.

“No one will need to abandon their pets,” said Melissa Tucker, director of the commission’s Habitat and Species Conservation Division.

Additionally, animals can still be brought to Florida for exhibits and research.

With iguanas and tegu lizards accounting for about $620,000 a year of Florida’s $50-200 million reptile trade, which includes nearly 4,000 species, the commission agreed to allow existing commercial tegus breeding and green iguanas until June 30, 2024.

Tucker said the state spends about $8 million a year mitigating the various species, including nearly $1 million a year to manage the Argentine black and white tegus, which are found in southern Florida to northern St. Lucie County, and which pose a threat to gopher tortoises and alligator. eggs.

Since 2012, about 10,000 tegus, which are native to South America and do well in Florida’s subtropical climate, have been found in the wild in the state, according to the commission.

Lawmakers passed a measure last year that tightened restrictions so that as “conditional” designated species, tegu lizards and green iguanas cannot be bred and kept for commercial sale, with the only permitted use for “educational, research or eradication or control” purposes.

In a caveat, owners of tegu lizards and green iguanas were allowed to sell or breed the species as long as their licenses remain active, with sales to be out of state.

A lawsuit filed by the Florida chapter of the Reptile Keepers Association of the United States and six individual plaintiffs, backed by a Leon County circuit court judge in October, alleged that passing the measure by the Legislative Assembly had improperly impinged on the commission’s constitutional power to regulate wildlife.

Phil Goss, president of the American Reptile Keepers Association, told commissioners that Thursday’s proposal fell far short of the “reasonable” rules the commission is authorized to impose.

“We have seen for over a decade that this conditional species program, not the listing of prohibited species, actually closes the barn door and even plugs the hole in the canoe kept in that barn,” said said Goss. “This proposal for prohibited species is uncharted territory for species heavily found in trade.”

The name change drew more than 150 people to call into the remote meeting on both sides of the issue.

Daniel Perez, describing himself as a reptile keeper, educator and zookeeper, said the problems facing the state were caused by a previous generation of reptile managers and people like him worked with the commission. to capture invasive species.

“To ban these animals is to punish these same people who are out there, putting in hours of work to remove these invasive species,” Perez said.

Marcus Cantos, who has worked with reptiles for decades, asked the commission to delay the vote until in-person meetings can take place.

“We don’t have our day in court on this, and we implore you to move this important matter to a live committee meeting, where stakeholders can bring you the rest of the story of how the reducing the regulatory vacuum really has an impact. Floridians,” Cantos said.

Pedro Ramos, superintendent of the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, said despite all the money spent to restore the Everglades, the “war” is lost against the invasion of non-native pythons and other reptiles.

“We want to restore the Everglades and succeed. But we’re not going to do it for a bunch of weeds and animals that don’t belong here to begin with,” Ramos said. “So we have to continue this fight and improve.”

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