South Florida's big snakes are target of new law

Federal wildlife managers said Wednesday they will pursue a ban on the import of Burmese python and eight other giant exotic snakes that threaten the Everglades.

The move, announced by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in New York, could make the snakes rarer in at least one place — pet stores, which have put snakes into the hands of owners who later released them, fueling an explosion of the reptiles across South Florida.

State wildlife managers, meanwhile, are finalizing plans aimed at more directly controlling their spread in the wild: a hunting season for Burmese python and other constrictors.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission already allows licensed hunters to kill snakes they encounter during small-game and other hunting seasons in wildlife management areas. But the agency also intends to create a two-month season specifically for the troublesome snakes, said spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro.

Dennis Giardina, Everglades region biologist for the FWC, called it an innovative approach he believes could put a dent in a population estimated to number in the tens of thousands.

Though details are still being worked out, Ferraro said, it will likely run March 7 to April 17 -- only in those state lands. Hunting is not allowed in Everglades National Park. The Big Cypress National Wildlife Preserve runs a separate program with hunters.

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