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  • National Geo "Congressional Python Ban Unscientific"

    Justification For Congressional Python Ban Unscientific, Researchers Say
    Posted on December 7, 2009 | 9 Comments

    Biologists and veterinarians are urging the U.S. Congress to hold off on a ban on trade in pythons and other large exotic snakes until research into how much of a threat they pose to U.S. ecosystems has been thoroughly reviewed by independent scientists.
    In a letter to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary (full text at the bottom of this blog entry), an independent group of scientists characterized a United States Geological Survey (USGS) report being touted as the justification for a ban on import and trade in pythons as "unscientific," stated a news release issued by United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK).
    USARK President Andrew Wyatt presented written testimony to Congress last month. "It is our belief that best management practices and professional standards specific to certain reptiles is what is needed, not draconian measures that will only succeed in destroying a viable industry," he said. (Read a summary of Wyatt's testimony.)
    Congress is weighing a ban on the importation of large snakes like pythons and boas following a report by the USGS earlier this year that stated that climate conditions might be conducive to the spreading of feral Burnese pythons across much of the southern part of the United States.
    "The independent group of scientists and herpetologists, including professors from the University of Florida, Arizona State, and Texas A&M among others penned members of Congress in response to comments made by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) during a November 6th hearing on H.R. 2811, a bill that could determine the fate of much of the reptile trade in the United States," the USARK statement said.
    "During that hearing USFWS Deputy Director Dan Ashe characterized the USGS report as "peer-reviewed science", a claim that struck a nerve within the scientific community.
    "It is a misrepresentation to call the USGS document 'scientific'" stated the scientists," USARK said. "As written, this [USGS] document is not suitable as the basis for legislative or regulatory policies, as its content is not based on best science practices, it has not undergone external peer-review, and it diverts attention away from the primary concern.
    "We encourage the USFWS and USGS to submit this document to an independent body for proper and legitimate peer review. Additionally, we encourage the Committee to review this document, not as an authoritative scientific publication, but rather as a report currently drafted to support a predetermined policy."
    H.R. 2811, Introduced by U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek (D-FL), who recently announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, could add all pythons, and even boas, to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act; a designation reserved for only the most dangerous alien invaders to our natural ecosystem, according to USARK.
    "Such a move would prevent all import, export, and interstate transport of pythons in the U.S. The scientific justification for such a move hinges on a recently published report of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) entitled 'Risk Assessment of Nine Large Constricting Snakes,' which attempts to paints a picture of large constrictor snakes as an immediate threat to eco-systems over much of the U.S."
    Letter To Congress:
    24 November 2009

    U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary
    The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism & Homeland Security
    Dear Chairman Bobby Scott and Ranking Member Louie Gohmert:
    We write in regard to the recent Congressional hearing on HR 2811. As scientists who have worked with reptiles including those cited in HR2811, we express our reservations regarding the document recently released by USGS as an "Open-Report", titled Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Nine Large Species of Pythons, Anacondas, and the Boa Constrictor.
    Simply put, this report is not a bona-fide "scientific" paper that has gone through external peer review. Part of this report is fact-driven, described by the authors as "traditional library scholarship." By the authors' admissions, there are surprisingly little data available regarding the natural history of these species. In their attempt to compile as much information as possible, the authors draw from a wide variety of references, ranging from articles published in peer-reviewed professional journals to far less authoritative hobbyist sources, including popular magazines, the internet, pet industry publications, and even various media sources. While such an approach is inclusive, it tends to include information that is unsubstantiated and, in some cases, contradicts sound existing data.
    As scientists whose careers are focused around publishing in peer-reviewed journals and providing expert reviews of papers submitted to these journals, we feel it is a misrepresentation to call the USGS document "scientific". In fact, much of this report is based on an unproven risk assessment model that produces results that contradict the findings presented in a recently published scientific paper that used a more complex and superior model (see: Pyron R.A., F.T. Burbrink, and T.J. Guiher. 2008. Claims of Potential Expansion throughout the U.S. by Invasive Python Species Are Contradicted by Ecological Niche Models, PLoS One 3: e2931.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002931).
    Unfortunately, the authors of the USGS document limit their reference to this scientific work to an unsubstantiated criticism. To the contrary, this alternate model is validated by its relatively accurate prediction of the natural distribution of the species in question (something the USGS model does not even attempt). Furthermore, despite its conclusion of a limited potential distribution of Burmese pythons in the United States, the model presented by Pyron et al. accurately predicts the presence of Burmese pythons in the Everglades.
    The USGS model likely provides a gross overestimate of potential habitat for these snake species. People throughout the United States keep pythons as pets, yet the only known breeding populations in the United States are in the Everglades. Such a wide distribution of potential sources of invasion, but only a localized invasive event, suggests that factors beyond those used in the USGS model are critical to limiting the suitability of habitat for pythons. The authors even state that climate is only one factor of several that affect the distribution of an animal, yet they develop a model that only uses overly simplistic climatic data (e.g., the climatic data did not take seasonality into consideration).
    We are further concerned by the pervasive bias throughout this report. There is an obvious effort to emphasize the size, fecundity and dangers posed by each species; no chance is missed to speculate on negative scenarios. The report appears designed to promote the tenuous concept that invasive giant snakes are a national threat. However, throughout the report there is a preponderance of grammatical qualifiers that serve to weaken many, if not most, statements that are made.
    We fully recognize the serious concerns associated with the presence of persistent python populations in southern Florida. As top predators, these animals can and will have a dramatic impact on the community of wildlife that lives in the Everglades. Inaccurately extending this threat to a much large geographic area is not only inappropriate, but likely takes needed focus away from the real problem in the Everglades.
    In conclusion, as written, this document is not suitable as the basis for legislative or regulatory policies, as its content is not based on best science practices, it has not gone through external peer-review, and it diverts attention away from the primary concern. We encourage the USFWS and USGS to submit this document to an independent body for proper and legitimate peer review. Additionally, we encourage the Committee to review this document, not as an authoritative scientific publication, but rather as a report currently drafted to support a predetermined policy.
    Signed:
    Elliott Jacobson, MS, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACZM
    Professor of Zoological Medicine
    University of Florida
    Dale DeNardo, DVM, PhD
    Associate Professor School of Life Sciences
    Arizona State University
    Paul M. Gibbons, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP (Avian)
    President-Elect, Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians
    Interim Regent, Reptiles & Amphibians, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
    Director, Exotic Species Specialty Service
    Animal Emergency Center and Specialty Services
    Chris Griffin, DVM, Dipl. ABVP (Avian)
    President, Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians
    Owner and Medical Director
    Griffin Avian and Exotic Veterinary Hospital
    Brady Barr, PhD
    Resident Herpetologist
    National Geographic Society
    Endangered Species Coalition of the Council of State Governments
    Crocodilian Specialist Group
    Warren Booth, PhD
    Invasive Species Biologist
    Research Associate
    North Carolina State University
    Director of Science
    United States Association of Reptile Keepers
    Ray E. Ashton, Jr.
    President
    Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Institute
    Robert Herrington, PhD
    Professor of Biology
    Georgia Southwestern State University
    Douglas L. Hotle
    Curator of Herpetology/Conservation/Research
    Natural Toxins Research Center
    Texas A&M University
    Francis L. Rose (Retired) , B.S., M.S. (Zoology), PhD (Zoology)
    Professor Emeritus
    Texas State University
    Edward J. Wozniak DVM, PhD
    Regional Veterinarian
    Zoonosis Control Division
    Texas Department of State Health Services

    CC: Secretary Kenneth Salazar, US Dept of the Interior; Director Marcia McNutt, US Geological Survey; Director Sam Hamilton, US Fish & Wildlife Service

  • #2
    Re: National Geo "Congressional Python Ban Unscientific"

    Heh, so basically congress is talking out of their ***.
    Man, they infuriate me so much, and there isn't much I can do seeing as how I am a Canadian. But I know what hits you guys will linger here into canada.

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    • #3
      Re: National Geo "Congressional Python Ban Unscientific"

      Originally posted by Kollindyr View Post
      Heh, so basically congress is talking out of their ***.
      Man, they infuriate me so much, and there isn't much I can do seeing as how I am a Canadian. But I know what hits you guys will linger here into canada.
      We in BC Canada already got this type of legislation just ad every single venomous snake and you got the BC list minus the Boas.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: National Geo "Congressional Python Ban Unscientific"

        Originally posted by snakemaster View Post
        We in BC Canada already got this type of legislation just ad every single venomous snake and you got the BC list minus the Boas.
        Yeah, I know, it's ridiculous, many people in Ontario still don't realize the severity of this, and it's already started in Canada, and has so for the past few years...

        Guess they will only learn that the hot plate is actually hot by touching it.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: National Geo "Congressional Python Ban Unscientific"

          ...Bump!!

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