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FWC approves rule changes to help protect Florida from invasive reptiles

At its February 2021 meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved staff recommendations to create new rules to address the importation, breeding and possession of high-risk invasive reptiles.

The approved rule changes to Chapter 68-5, F.A.C. specifically address Burmese pythons, Argentine black and white tegus, green iguanas and 13 other high-risk nonnative snakes and lizards that pose a threat to Florida’s ecology, economy, and human health and safety.

Commissioners also approved the staff recommendation to create a Technical Assistance Group, which will include representatives from the pet industry, environmental groups and other affected parties, to help develop a comprehensive regulatory approach to managing nonnative species in Florida.

The Commissioners also approved an amendment to extend the timeframe for animal owners to come into compliance with outdoor caging requirements.

“These animals are creating enormous issues for our state,” said FWC Chairman, Rodney Barreto. “I have always been proud that Florida is looked at as a leader. Let’s take a bold stance. We have to put our foot down. The time has come, and we hope other states will follow.”

“I’m very sensitive to the people in the pet trade and enthusiasts. But this action is a result of the invasive species that continue to get into the wild,” said FWC Commissioner Robert Spottswood. “We have so many of these species now: pythons, tegus, iguanas. These animals are doing lots of damage and we are incumbent to do something.”

“Addressing invasive species, such as the ones listed in this rule package, is extremely important for the preservation of our native species and the health and safety of our residents and visitors,” said Eric Sutton, Executive Director of the FWC. “Staff does not come to these recommendations lightly, but we know this action is necessary.”

The new rules move these 16 high-risk nonnative reptiles to Florida’s Prohibited List and include reporting requirements for permittees, biosecurity requirements to limit escape of these high-risk species, and additional language to clarify limited exceptions for some entities currently in possession of green iguanas and tegus for commercial use or as pets. The rule will allow for current tegu and green iguana pet owners to keep their pets with a no-cost permit.

Once rules take effect, pet owners and other entities in possession of these species will have 90 days to come into compliance except on caging requirements where they will have 180 days to improve outdoor enclosures to bring them into compliance with the new caging rules. The breeding of tegus and iguanas for commercial sale can continue until June 30, 2024 at which time it will be prohibited.

The FWC hosted online stakeholder workshops to present proposed rule changes and collect public comment on the draft rules. FWC staff considered this feedback to help improve the final rule language.

The FWC has received extensive feedback on the draft rules including substantial support from a variety of conservation organizations.

“The people of south Florida depend on the South Florida Water Management District to effectively manage our water resources and provide flood protection,” said Drew Bartlett, Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District. “High-risk invasive species pose a significant risk to water management infrastructure and negatively impact the restoration of America’s Everglades. We appreciate FWC taking action to protect native Florida wildlife and minimize impacts to water management infrastructure.”

“The Nature Conservancy supports proposed rule changes to address the threat of nonnative species and looks forward to working with the FWC toward solutions that could further protect Florida’s environment, human health and safety, and economy.” – Greg Knecht, Deputy Director Florida Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

“Breeding invasive exotic species in Florida is like playing with matches in a tinder box. With such hospitable winters, a few escapes can become populations, and then taxpayers and private landowners are on the hook for millions annually in eradication and management costs. Audubon supports these proposed rules as common-sense protections for our environment and economy.” – Julie Wraithmell, VP and Executive Director, Audubon Florida.

“The Everglades Coalition strongly supports the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s proposed draft rules related to high-risk, nonnative invasive reptiles, which would add the highest risk invasive reptiles to the list of prohibited nonnative species.” – Mark Perry and Marisa Carrozzo, Co-Chairs of the Everglades Coalition.

More than 500 nonnative species have been reported in Florida. Eighty percent of these have been introduced via the live animal trade with at least 139 established in Florida, meaning they are reproducing in the wild. Since most nonnative fish and wildlife find their way into Florida’s habitats through escape or release from the live animal trade, it is important to prevent high-risk nonnative wildlife from becoming introduced or further established in Florida’s environment through regulatory action.

The FWC uses regulation of high-risk nonnative fish and wildlife in conjunction with a variety of other management strategies to minimize adverse impacts of invasive species and to prevent the introduction of additional species into the wild.

For more information, including details on the no-cost permits, visit MyFWC.com/Nonnatives.