An American alligator and a Burmese python locked in a struggle in Everglades National Park. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service.)

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar went to the Everglades Tuesday to announce, with the usual fanfare and political backslapping, a ban on the importation of four species of invasive snakes, including the Burmese python.

“Thanks to the work of our scientists, Sen. Bill Nelson, and others, there is a large and growing understanding of the real and immediate threat that the Burmese python and other invasive snakes pose to the Everglades and other ecosystems in the United States,” Salazar said.

Lovers of the Everglades might have preferred something less self-congratulatory, perhaps more along the line of Pope John Paul II’s plea for forgiveness for the past sins of the Catholic Church.

It would be warranted. In the name of making money, the United States has allowed its citizens to dredge and drain the Everglades for real estate, to poison it with fertilizer and corrupt it with invasive species.

The extent of the abuse was so dramatic that it will cost $12 billion to begin its restoration. It’s become such a severe and embarrassing problem that it seems to have actually, and briefly, brought together the administrations of President Barack Obama and Gov. Rick Scott.

The first big problem with non-native species in the Everglades began almost as soon as modern American entrepreneurs came in contact with the impressive wetlands. Melaleuca trees were introduced into the Everglades in 1906 by folks who wanted to harvest them as ornamental plants and for paper (the tree is also called the paperbark tea tree). Because they grew so fast and propagated so easily, they were intentionally planted into the sides of levees to stabilize the dirt. In the 1930s, planes actually scattered them from the air to promote their growth in the Everglades. Today it’s illegal “to introduce, multiply, possess, move, or release” melaleucas. But it’s too late. Because 106 years later, we haven’t been able to figure out how to eradicate it.

More recently, as South Florida’s urban population ballooned, invasive snakes such as the Burmese python became the next problem. The snakes, often bought for pets, were subsequently released into the wetlands after a bout of buyer’s remorse — or owner’s laziness.

Lacking natural predators, they’ve taken over. It’s believed that there are now 30,000 pythons in Everglades National Park. And they’re spreading.

“It’s sad that it’s gotten this far — and unfortunately, there is no reason to think that they aren’t going to disperse farther north,” said Kris Serbesoff-King, the Florida invasive species program manager for The Nature Conservancy, one of the groups that has been pushing for the ban.

And yet despite all that history, it still took five years of studies, hearings and debate before Salazar was able to announce a ban. And it will be another 60 days before the ban begins.

So those familiar with the history can be excused for finding Salazar’s announcement lacking.

The first commenter on The Miami Herald story about the announcement expressed it succinctly and eloquently: “You are about thirty years too late.”



10 Responses

  1. Tammy

    Every American should be outraged. Regardless of whether or not you own or even like snakes for that matter. You may not want to go bungee jumping, but should it be ILLEGAL? You may think motorcycles are dangerous, should they be ILLEGAL? Special interest groups who ultimately want to end ALL animal ownership in America have made a step in that direction, first the fearsome creepy crawlies blown out of proportion and sensationalized by the media, then the cute cuddlies, and then your guns, your religion and whatever else they like. This ban is based on lies and the non reptile owning public has the wool pulled over their eyes. Tell me how it’s going to effect the everglades when it’s a felony to bring a pet snake from Alaska to Montana? These snakes have no possible chance of surviving in that climate. There are already laws in Florida regarding these snakes. They have to be microchipped and you need a permit. That’s enough. Under this law you CAN’T EVEN TAKE THEM OUT OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA! Putting restrictions on the rest of the country is ridiculous. Wake up, people! You need to be concerned about the actions of your government!

  2. Dan Lease

    This ban is a farce and is based on a study done by the USGS that has been disproven by other studies. Some of the pressure to pass this is coming from the HSUS and Defenders of Wildlife, both animal rights groups. While there is a possible problem in the Everglades its does not constitute a ban nationwide that will impact many households and small business. If passed we are talking about about 103+ million dollar loss to an already bad ecomomy.

  3. Andrew

    The reason that only 4 were banned is because the economic impact from banning all 9 would have been so high congress would have to vote on it. They all will be banned one by one with no federal say completely ignoring checks and balances. congratulations people welcome to the new united fascist states of america people, where your vote is just a quaint idea. Also, the picture of the locked struggle but the only “locked” is the alligator’s teeth in the python.

  4. Kim

    The original poster is an idiot, the snakes that are a problem down in the everglades wouldn’t survive out side of it because of their strict humidity and constant temperature needs. So unless some severe weather and earth axis changing comes along and turns all of the US into a wet, tropical rain forest, the big snakes that has everyone so worried wouldn’t be able to survive the winter or dry season for that matter. I can completely agree with Florida having more strict regulations, even banning them in Florida would be understandable, but half of this person’s information is wrong. DNA tests show that the mass amounts of Burmese in the everglades stemmed from snakes that came from breeding facilities that were destroyed in 1992, not completely by people letting their pets go. And perhaps if this ban was actually going in for a voting instead of being done underhandedly by some political loophole, people wouldn’t be nearly as outraged but why should the rest of America have to be punished because one area is affected?

  5. Brad

    Frankly this ban is as stupid as SOPA does, is our government so horrible that we focus on that things that will have a major impact on our economy and put plenty of people out of business with animals that cant even get rid of by selling them. Our government is getting worse and worse soon we are going to live in a Communist country with no control over what we can do. Burmese pythons do not get 26 ft in length. yes they are taking over the everglades but why would you bam them all over the us. its not like people in washington are taking their pythons to florida to set them free. The owners who let their animals go in the everglades are irresponsible are complete dumb-asses. thats why people invented reptile rescue shelters so you wouldn’t have to do that. This ban and bills like SOPA make me want to move to England you you can actually be free without an oppressive Government

  6. Neely

    I’m going to call BS on the picture…totally photoshopped. Just goes to show you what “investigative reporting” means in the internet age of reporting. This is just crap.

  7. john

    Well i guess the only people hurt by this ban is the law obiding people who have laget busnisses that deal with these types of reptiles,on the other nand i can tske a yellow anaconda or any other large constrictor put it in a toat and drive over any state line,you can have a breeding busissnes going on in your basement and selllwhat you breed the only difference is you cant advertise on the internet my not be as profitable but it can still be done,my point is the goverment by passing this stupid law just made it harder on themselfs to keep track on who owns these animals and what they are doing with them,by passing this law it pushed the serpents named in the ban under ground and went from a leaglle pet trede to ileaglle pet trade and instead of the goverment making money off the trade they now have to spend money to combat it,how f ed up is that,well i guess i will smoke a bowl and wonder why such things happen oops thats illeagle to and you see how well that worked out!!!!!

  8. George

    I live in Mass and I have owned reptiles of all sorts since I was a child, I think this ban is crazy I don’t want to mention all the snakes I have cause they will probably been banned next,not to mention now since this ban the next state over from me Rhode Island is now trying to make a ban where it will even be illegal to own a ball python! That just boggles my mind first off where I live nothing not even a little anole will survive here in the fall or winter. There has to be another way for all big constrictors to not be banned manditory micro chipping from pet stores and breeders heck they only cost a few dollars and you can even buy them online and have them in a couple days…First our government trys to BSL my dogs(pit bulls) which have never had a ounce of agression in them and now they are trying to take away my reptiles,they already make my kids wear uniforms in public school,I forgot who said US commies of america but I agree totally America is no longer free its like china next our kids will have school 7 days a week. We need to stand up for our rights and ammendments, thanks George…Angry American…Time to move to where my family came from back to England.

  9. Michael Stanley

    Government is as always counter productive. first Simple to boost the Economy and eliminate all large pythons from the everglades post 100.00 bounty on each snake 2 per person. see how fast the snakes are exterminated.
    people make money and snakes are gone.
    second they tax and fine everything tax all snakes sold and require a permit to own and a very stiff fine if you own one and you let it go or it escapes. Make people be more responsible and think before they buy a snake that can eat their children and or destroy the environment. bounty’s taxes fines permits all regulating and protecting the environment and the business.


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