FWC moves to repel 16 high-risk invasive reptiles in Florida

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on Thursday approved new rules to address the importation, breeding and possession of high-risk invasive reptiles—overruling the objections of those in the exotic pet industry.

The rule changes specifically address Burmese pythons, Argentine black and white tegus, green iguanas and 13 other high-risk nonnative snakes and lizards that pose a threat to Florida’s ecology, economy, and human health and safety.

“These animals are creating enormous issues for our state,” said FWC chairman Rodney Barreto. “We have to put our foot down. The time has come, and we hope other states will follow.”

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Commissioners also agreed to create a technical assistance group, which will include representatives from the pet industry, environmental groups and other affected parties, to help develop a comprehensive regulatory approach to managing nonnative species in Florida.

“I’m very sensitive to the people in the pet trade and enthusiasts. But this action is a result of the invasive species that continue to get into the wild,” said Robert Spottswood, an FWC commissioner. “We have so many of these species now: pythons, tegus, iguanas. These animals are doing lots of damage and we are incumbent to do something.”

The new rules move these 16 high-risk nonnative reptiles to Florida’s prohibited list and include reporting requirements for permittees, biosecurity requirements to limit escape of these high-risk species, and additional language to clarify limited exceptions for some entities currently in possession of green iguanas and tegus for commercial use or as pets. The rule will allow for current tegu and green iguana pet owners to keep their pets with a no-cost permit.

Commissioners also approved an amendment to extend the timeframe for animal owners to come into compliance with outdoor caging requirements.

Once rules take effect, pet owners and other entities in possession of these species will have 90 days to come into compliance except on caging requirements where they will have 180 days to improve outdoor enclosures to bring them into compliance with the new caging rules. The breeding of tegus and iguanas for commercial sale can continue until June 30, 2024. After that, all breeding will be prohibited. 

During several hours of testimony on Thursday, some reptile breeders warned that implementing the rules would lead to a black market, reported the Miami Herald. Reptile owners spoke of their love for their pets. 

The FWC hosted online stakeholder workshops to present proposed rule changes and collect public comment on the draft rules. The FWC said its staff took the feedback into consideration when drafting the final rule language, which is altered from the version first proposed last year. 

Conservation groups were supportive of the move. 

“The Nature Conservancy supports proposed rule changes to address the threat of nonnative species and looks forward to working with the FWC toward solutions that could further protect Florida’s environment, human health and safety, and economy,” said Greg Knecht, deputy director of the Florida chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

According to the FWC, more than 500 nonnative species have been reported in Florida. Eighty percent of these have been introduced via the live animal trade with at least 139 established in Florida—meaning they are reproducing in the wild. 

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