Feds Debate Extending "Python Ban" Amid Growing Opposition From Reptile Industry

To most people, Burmese pythons and similarly large snakes are icky and frightening. But are they a menace worthy of federal regulation and tax dollars? 

On Thursday, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee is slated to hold a hearing on whether to add nine constricting snakes to the so-called "Python Ban." Not everyone is pleased by the prospect, least of all the reptile industry, which says the Congressional Budget Office has ignored the financial blow these types of bans inflict on those engaged in herpetoculture. 

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The United States Association of Reptile Keepers, or USARK, said it is sending three experts, including Shawn Heflick of Nat Geo Wild's Python Hunters television show, to challenge the ban.

There was much fanfare earlier this year when Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced a new set of restrictions on the much-maligned Burmese python. By enacting a tough set of laws and essentially banning anyone from moving the snakes across state lines, the feds reasoned that they would be able to confine the damage the invasive species has caused to the Everglades. 

But as those who oppose the ban are apt to point out, Burmese pythons may not be able to survive in the wild anywhere outside the southernmost regions of Florida. They often ask why a federal ban was needed for a problem that afflicts only a few counties in South Florida. 

Ahead of Thursday's hearing, USARK issued a news statement touting a new study from University of Florida researchers that explains why "it is unlikely that feral pythons can survive north of the Everglades."

"As tropical species, pythons are morphologically, physiologically, and behaviorally ill-equipped to tolerate low temperatures commonly reached north of the Everglades during the winter," the statement says. "In other words, pythons can barely tolerate cold temperatures in South Florida, let alone central or north Florida, or outside of the state."   

One of the study's authors points out that feral hogs are a much more destructive invasive species, a sentiment that has been echoed by several experts.

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Chris Sweeney