Proposed Constrictor Snake Ban Could Squeeze Thousands of Jobs

Snake BanReptile enthusiasts are on the attack over a proposed rule that would limit the importation and interstate transportation of pythons and other, larger constrictor snakes that they say will harm the livelihoods of those who deal in the slithery creatures.

The pending regulations would result in the loss of thousands of jobs and endanger an estimated $1.4 billion in national and international trade of captive-bred snakes, according to the United States Association of Reptile Keepers.

Calling the proposed rule "the wrong action," the group said in a statement last week that, if enacted, the law would have "no significant effect on the solution of current or future problems posed by the constrictor snakes."

The U.S. is largest producer of captive-bred reptiles worldwide, responsible for 80 percent of global trade, Andrew Wyatt, president and CEO of USARK told AOL Jobs in an interview.

"It's a high quality American-made product that is potentially going to be shutdown by over regulation by the government, because they want to," he says, adding that there isn't strong science to support a ban.

The federal government argues that the snakes pose a significant threat to humans and other animals and their habitats, and has spent years studying the problem. The Interior Department is close to issuing the rules, which would list the snakes as "injurious wildlife" under the Lacey Act, a more than century-old law that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally gotten, transported or sold.

The proposed ban wouldn't affect the sale or transportation of the snakes within state borders, however.

Threat Seen to Lives and the Environment

"The Department of the Interior is working with many partners, including the state of Florida, to address the significant challenges posed by the invasive Burmese python and other species of large constrictor snakes in south Florida," Vanessa Kauffman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said in an email.

Permitting the nine targeted species of large constrictor snakes to live and breed in the U.S. poses a threat to the lives and habitats of humans and other animals, as well as food production, forestry and plant life, according to the proposed rules, which would be in force in all states and U.S. territories.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that $3.6 million to $10.7 million will be lost from retail sales of such snakes by companies or individuals, although some reports have put the loss as high as $1.8 billion.

The agency says it doesn't know how the higher figure was calculated, noting that in 2009, Americans spent $2.16 billion in purchases of all pets -- including dogs, cats, horses, birds, reptiles, etc., so it's likely that sales of the nine constrictor snakes in question would be a much lower figure.

Pythons can fetch as much as $50,000 each, according to ABC News in a recent report about snake infestation in the Florida Everglades.

The Economic Fallout

Among companies and professions that would be affected by the regulations, expected to take effect by August 2012, are importers of live snakes, and companies that sell or breed the snakes across state lines, the government says.

Others livelihoods include those who support the industry, Wyatt says, including manufacturers of climate control equipment, dry goods, cages and feeders, as well as shippers, such as FedEx and UPS.

"So you have a whole array of ancillary businesses that support the trade in [constrictor snakes]," Wyatt says, adding that the industry creates $1.4 billion in economic activity annually nationwide, which includes all business related to constrictor snake sales and support.

The economic fallout to those groups depends on how dependent they are on sales of constrictor snakes and whether consumers would consider purchasing another animal instead, the government says.

In other words, determining the fallout from the proposed ban -- including the number of jobs that may be lost -- may be trickier than teaching a snake to walk.

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