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Today we'll be discussing the pressing issue of invasive species, namely, the Burmese python. The introduction of these constrictors into the southern Floridian ecosystem has altered its structure and composition, putting many native endangered species at risk of extinction. To combat this threat, the government has proposed a federal ban on the interstate and international import/export of select constrictor species. Unfortunately, passing federal legislature could have a profound negative effect on business and the economy. Seeing this, we'd like to propose alternative solutions that exist on individual, local, and state levels. When paired with invasive species education and community outreach programs, current infestation will decline and further introduction will be prevented. INTRODUCTION The Burmese Python is one of the largest snakes in the world reaching upwards of 12 feet sometimes as large as 19 feet. They live in the semi-aquatic subtropics areas of Southern/southeastAsia. They can be identified by their dark color consisting of a combination of black and brown that has made them attractive as a pet. They are fairly good climbers and can be found in trees and along with their ability to climb they can swim. These snakes are notorious for being docile, but they are also extremely powerful and ferocious hunters. They can consume rabbits and rats, but the larger ones have been known to kill pigs, alligators, and deer. Now, these powerful snakes have become an invasive species and are causing major problems in the southern United States, namely Florida. An invasive species is a species that has been introduced to an area that it is not native to. Usually an invasive species has a negative effect on the ecosystem it has been introduced into due to it taking advantage of the surrounding resources. The Burmese Python is considered one of these invasive species.As a result of the third most profitable business, exotic animal trafficking, Burmese Pythons have been brought into personal households and animal warehouses all over the country, especially in Florida. Inside of Florida’s wetlands there has been an increasing amount of these snakes and, like all invasive species, they are having a very negative impact on the environment. How did these Pythons even get into Florida’s Everglades National Park? The obvious answer is the fact that people are dumping their snakes in the Everglades. But the real culprit is poorly kept animal warehouses that when hit by hurricanes or other tropical storms cause these animals and others to be released. In the 1990s there were virtually no pythons in the Florida Everglades, but now there are thousands possibly tens of thousands. The snakes arrive mainly through Miami via the airport, Snakes on a Plane, literally, and are kept as pets or in animal warehouses. The snakes like the wetlands of Florida because it is similar to their natural home so in the brambles, brush, and alcoves they thrive. In the last four years over 140,000 Burmese were brought over into the Florida area and by now it can be assumed that a very large percent of them are free now. A major problem is that in one year they can double in size and in 2 years they can be 11 feet long and over 200 pounds, I know for a fact I do not have that kind of room or mental capacity for fear to be able to take care of a creature that large. Even though these numbers are staggering, a majority of the snakes were released by storms. If a poorly kept warehouse is hit by even a minimal storm hundreds of snakes can become released, contributing to the number of snakes previously introduced. BIOLOGICAL After being abandoned by pet owners who could no longer care for their animals, the Burmese pythons were able to thrive in the Everglades because southern Florida has an environment that is similar to their native habitat and because of the lack of natural predators. Pythons have even been known to killAmerican alligators, which grow to an average length of 11 feet.Ahuge threat encountered by the arrival of these invasive snakes is the effects that the introduction of this species may incur on endangered species that are native only or mostly in Florida, such as the Florida Panther. Pythons feed on anything from small vertebrates to deer, displaying the breadth of their feeding range. This range of predation means that these animals have a large impact on the ecosystem of an area.Apart from just the effects that pythons have on endangered animals that are their prey, such as the wood stork (Mycteria americana) and the Key Largo woodrat (Neotoma floridana smalli), animals that feed on these prey are also affected. In a study done in 2011, Dorcas et al. attempted to determine the impact that pythons have on the prevalence of certain animals in the Everglades National Park. To determine this, the researchers tested the encounter rate of these animals in the pythons' range, just outside of that range, and far outside of that range. The results of this study indicated that the prey of pythons showed noticeable change in encounters between the area of the pythons range and outside of their range. This change in predation has a trickle effect, as less prey means that it is harder for other animals that feed on those prey have a more difficult time finding food and therefore have a more difficult time surviving and reproducing. Of particular concern is the Florida Panther, as they have been taken near extinction by predation of alligators and humans and are now facing the threat of Burmese pythons. Although pythons are not known to feed on panthers, the two species share similar prey and therefore are now forced to compete directly for them. In order to prevent the extinction of these animals, steps must be taken to ensure that invasive python populations can no longer thrive. One way to help ensure this would be to introduce a natural predator of the Burmese python into the Everglades and allow it to slowly eradicate the population living there. Using a non-native predator might worsen the problem though, since it will likely feed on other food sources as well as the python. If, however, a natural predator such as the threatened American Crocodile were captively bred and reintroduced to strengthen existing populations, it might be possible to quell the growth of the invasive pythons while at the same time helping to reestablish a threatened native species. POLITICAL Conservation efforts of these threatened and federally endangered species are high priority as well as high stakes. Providing protection for some of these species has proven to be much more difficult a task than one would expect due to the introduction of an unfamiliar apex predator: the constrictor. Various exotic constrictor species have managed to stay under the radar in south Florida, making it easy for them to slither their way to the top of the food chain. Southern Florida senators are pushing for legislature to ban the international as well as interstate, import and export of select Boa, Python, and Eunectes (anaconda) species. The proposed bill lists these species as “injurious wildlife” under the Lacey act. This law was initially put forth to manage the trade and sale of agricultural products, but has been amended many times now to restrict the trade of a number of dangerous or invasive species. The effects that the constrictor ban will have on Florida seem obvious. A halting or drastic reduction in importation means we will no longer be directly contributing to the growing populations. Even so, there is evidence that Florida populations are now breeding successfully, implying that the residual effects of our introduction could be devastating.As the predator populations grow and expand, the prey populations dwindle. It is an all you can eat buffet for the hungry reptiles, and it is improbable that they will snub their noses at anything wandering within striking distance. Financially, if the ban successfully facilitates any significant decline in southern Florida constrictors, then it will be saving the state the millions of dollars that they could possibly end up spending on damage control. The effects of the ban extend well beyond southern Florida. The addition of these constrictor species to the Lacey Act not only makes the importation and exportation of these species illegal in Florida, but in and between every state of our country (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service). This is going to put reptile breeders, hobbyists, and certain facets of the pet industry at an immense loss. The economic costs of adding just four out of the nine species originally proposed by the bill ranges from $3.7 to $7.6 million annually. If all nine snake species are banned, the total economic loss jumps to $14.7 to $30.1 million annually (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service). This loss of revenue represents an even greater loss of jobs in the U.S. Small breeders all over the nation and the companies that associate with them will be hit hard. The passing of federal legislature to correct a problem isolated to southern Florida will leave millions of U.S. workers unemployed. Passing the legislature federally also entails that hobbyist and pet owners cannot cross state lines legally with their animals. If proper shelters are not provided, it is probable that many large constrictors will still be released in the south due to a lack of options and fear of punishment. Many of the problems encountered when balancing the need for intervention in Florida while maintaining the reptile industry are easily fixed.Afederal law requiring micro chipping of any potentially dangerous animal before sale would hold the releaser accountable for their actions and be an effective deterrent. Also, captive breeding has already eliminated the need for importation of these species (United States Association of Reptile Keepers). Unfortunately, the problem in Florida has evolved beyond these measures of prevention. Invasive constrictor species pose a great threat to the Everglades, and the situation requires immediate response. The proposed bill intends to provide this response by banning the international and interstate transport of these species on a federal level. While the severity of the issue in Florida is extreme, the benefits of applying a federal ban to a localized problem remain unclear. Federal legislature will put millions of breeders out of a job and compromise the rights of experienced hobbyists. The nations economy will also be affected by a federal ban, losing millions that are put into snake care, habitat, and breeding every year.Amore effective solution would be to develop laws requiring owners to micro chip any captive constrictor, making it possible to trace released pets back to individuals.Any such effort to curb constrictor release will impact the economy. ECONOMICAL Since 2005 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services in partnership with other programs have spent more than $6 millions dollars finding and applying solutions to control the population of Burmese Pythons. (Economic Cost of Large Constrictor Snakes). The other agencies involved in these operations include National Park Service, U.S. Department ofAgriculture (USDA), South Florida Water Management District (District), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Florida, county governments and nongovernmental organizations. (Economic Cost of Large Constrictor Snakes) The specific break down of these costs include $604,656 over a three year period to design, deploy and maintains python traps to prevent the extinction of the Key Largo woodrat and other vulnerable endangered species(Economic Cost of Large Constrictor Snakes). The Districts spent $334,00 between 2005 and 2009 and predicts spending another $156,000 more on research salary and vehicles to aid the problem(Economic Cost of Large Constrictor Snakes). The USDAWildlife research center spent $15,800 on salaries travel and supplies to research snake control. The USGS in cooperation with the University of Florida spent more than $1.5 million on research; radio telemetry, and the development and implementation of constrictor snake traps. Miami- Dade County Parks and Recreation department has spent $60,875 annually on constrictor snake issues(Economic Cost of Large Constrictor Snakes). The National Park service has spent $317,000 annually on various programs related to constrictor snakes such as research and removal purposes in Everglades National Park (Economic Cost of Large Constrictor Snakes). While $6 million does seem like a great deal of money, one study reported that nationwide economic damages associated with invasive species and there control amount to about $120 billion per year in the United Sates (Economic Cost of Large Constrictor Snakes). When taking the into account you see that the money being spent to control these snakes is less than 1% of the money being spent on invasive plants and animals. Also while this ban on the importation and exportation of certain constrictor species may make sense for Florida where these snakes have been able to thrive in its warm climate, business such as the New England Reptile Distributors located in New Hampshire where the snakes
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