Invasive species typically don’t wander into Florida on their own — they usually have significant human help. Florida’s culture of private possession of exotic animals is one of the factors driving invasive species problems in the state.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Rodney Barreto said the agency is committed to containing invasive species, no matter how much some people may care about possessing, buying and selling creatures that can cause havoc in the wild.
“Let’s be clear — and I want the industry to be clear — I as the Chair am one vote,” Barreto said.
“I’ve been clear — we do not want another python out in the Everglades. We don’t want another lionfish in the water. We don’t want a tegu lizard out there. We’re going to put our foot down. We’re going on the offensive. I’ve let the industry clearly know from me, my perspective, that we do not want to wait and realize that we approved something that’s detrimental to our environment, to Florida’s environment.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s approved the final rule on captive wildlife later in the day during the FWC’s two days of meetings at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
The meeting was admittedly a little short-handed as three Commissioners were missing for various reasons related to health, family and career, as was FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. Filling in for Sutton was Assistant Executive Director Thomas Eason. He said the agency’s been actively engaging with the Nonnative Fish and Wildlife Technical Assistance Group, or TAG.
“We’ve had four meetings with more up and coming, and we have definitely engaged heavily with the nonnative fish and wildlife folks out there in all aspects of those issues,” Eason said.
“I will say we’ve been moving forward on multiple efforts, and we’re leaning heavily on the TAG, and are looking for everyone on the TAG to come with instructive thoughts and ideas. We’ve had some disinformation going out and folks, from our perspective, being more obstructionist than they are helpful, so we’re taking a heavy look at that.”
It’s important to move forward with industry and the other stakeholders, Eason said.
Reptile owners and dealers appear regularly at FWC meetings, speaking at length. Among the issues they intended to bring up is the position of the majority of the TAG.
FWC staff, per the United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida, “have introduced the terms ‘Unrestricted List,’ ‘Restricted List’ and ‘Not Allowed List’ as part of a potential regulatory approach for nonnative species. Members of this group, who are appointed by the FWC, have urged FWC to take a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach in reference to allowing nonnative species to continue to be kept in that capacity.”
The issue is less what’s happening in the TAG meetings than what’s going on outside of the meetings, said Melissa Tucker, head of Habitat and Species Conservation for FWC, who sits on the TAG as an FWC representative.
“It’s creating a little bit of a sense of distress among members of the TAG community, because, like Thomas mentioned, there are some types of misinformation put out based on what’s said in the TAG,” Tucker said.
The position of Commissioners hasn’t appeared to change, as Barreto recommitted to their goal. He said he didn’t know how to fix that communication issue, but the process needs to progress.