U.S. to announce ban on python imports

A Burmese python
A Burmese python Mike Stocker/Sun-Sentinel/MCT

The United States is poised to formally and finally ban that slithering scourge of the Everglades, the Burmese python.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has championed the ban, is expected to make the announcement Tuesday morning during a press conference at a flood control pumping station off Tamiami Trail in the Everglades — a spot that is pretty much ground zero for a giant exotic constrictor that has become one of the nation’s most notorious invasive species.

Under a rule that has been the subject of five years of lobbying and debate in Washington, the United States intends to declare the Burmese python an “injurious’’ species, which would make it illegal to import or sell the snakes across state lines. At least one other species that has been found in the Glades, the African rock python, also is expected to be included on the “injurious’’ list that originally included nine large constrictors.

State and federal wildlife managers, environmental groups, many scientists and Florida lawmakers including U.S. Sen Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, have been pushing for the step since the South Florida Water Management District formally petitioned for the listing five years ago, alarmed by the rising number of snakes showing up on the flood-control levees that criss-cross the Everglades.

Biologists estimate there are now thousands of Burmese pythons in the Everglades, where they have eaten everything from marsh rabbits to alligators, and some studies suggest they could spread much farther — possibly outside Florida. But the proposal has drawn political flak as well, with reptile breeders and collectors, backed by Republican lawmakers, disputing that the tropical snakes pose much of a risk beyond South Florida and arguing the restrictions amount to “job-killing’’ red tape that will harm a $100-million-a-year industry.

The rule had been under consideration by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which reviews proposals for economic impacts, for nearly a year.

The listing under the Lacey Act, which will be published in the Federal Register before becoming final, would expand on snake-control restrictions already adopted by the state of Florida.

Last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission effectively banned personal ownership of Burmese pythons and seven other constrictors as pets. Snakes whose owners had obtained $100 annual licenses and implanted them with microchips before July 2010 were grandfathered in. Reptile breeders, dealers, researchers and exhibitors also can continue operating under a separate permit program, as long as they agree to strict storage and transport rules.

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