On May 3, 2010, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) filed a 36 page, 16 point Request for Correction with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) regarding the highly controversial, “Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Nine Large Species of Pythons, Anaconda, and the Boa Constrictor.” Under the Information Quality Act, any proposed government regulation that is considered controversial, precedent setting or having significant economic impact ($100 million +), will be held to a high standard for quality of information used to support that regulation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is using this report as the sole scientific justification for a proposed Rule Change that would add all the animals addressed in the report to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act.
If enacted, the Rule Change could create a whole new class of criminal – putting as many as one million Americans already in possession of these animals at potential risk of felony prosecution under the Lacey Act. This report, aka the “Constrictor Report,” has been criticized by top research scientists from around the world and across the U.S. as being “not scientific.” In a letter to the US Senate Environmental & Public Works Committee, scientists ranging from research institutions to the National Geographic Society said, “…this report is not a bona-fide “scientific” paper that has gone through external peer review.”
The data set presented as the underpinnings of the climate matching study that is the foundation of the report has been shown to be such a mischaracterization of the facts as to suggest gross incompetence or intentional deceit by the report’s authors. Michael Cota from the Thailand Natural History Museum questioned in his public comment to the USFWS after reviewing the climate data set, “With a 60 percent error rate for just one country (Thailand), how many imaginary data sets were used for these reports?”
This is the type of sloppy work that the USFWS is trying to use to justify a policy decision made prior to the rule making process. This kind of hubris victimizes the American public do to the capricious aims of certain mid-level government officials and their sympathies for the agenda of powerful special interest groups.
In a public comment made to the USFWS on the Proposed Rule Change by The Nature Conservancy (the most powerful special interest engaged in trying to influence the rulemaking process), they demonstrated their lack of understanding of the facts, as well as, their blind devotion to the idea of banning all non-native animals from entry or transport within the U.S.
While commenting on the survival rate of pythons in south Florida last winter, Kristina Serbesof-King mischaracterizes two cold-weather studies done by Dr. Frank Mazzotti and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, emphasizing the survival rate of three out of 19 study animals and disregarding the fact that the animals that survived were either provided artificial refugia or brought in from the cold and nursed back to health. This point is in direct contradiction to The Nature Conservancy’s assertion that, “Those that lived may be better adapted to survive cold temperatures in the future.” This is also coming from the same woman that sent e-mails to Robert Reed inquiring about how to tell the difference between a ball python and a Burmese python. While that in itself is not unusual for the general public, coming from someone who is professing to have some level of expertise as to influence public policy, it is disturbing.
On July 20, 2010, the USGS responded to the USARK Information Quality Act Request for Correction. After a review of the Constrictor Report by the report’s authors, Gordon Rodda and Robert Reed, the USGS concluded that the report was flawless on all 16 points in question and no correction was necessary. They also concluded that because the report was not originally designated as a highly-influential document that the USGS was not bound by government regulations pertaining to quality and accuracy of information. USARK has clearly stated that the USGS failure to comply with its own policies and principles as well as the minimum statutory standard for the quality of information used in the report constitutes a failure to comply with the most fundamental requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act.
In a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, USARK has uncovered documents that appear to point towards collusion and orchestration between the USFWS and the USGS in manufacturing “evidence” to support a predetermined policy decision regarding the push by special interests and the administration to list 9 constrictors on the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act. USARK encourages the administration, congressional members and the media to investigate these apparent efforts to corrupt the process of rule making. The administration has been highly critical of previous administrations for putting ideologically driven policy before a sound scientific basis for action. This injustice should not be allowed to stand by conscientious members of the administration and Congress.
On September 7, 2010, USARK filed an 86 page appeal of the Information Quality Act Request for Correction with the USGS. It is obvious that the USGS is not doing their homework and are attempting to gloss over the appeal process. All of the facts point to an appalling lack of integrity and intellectual honesty by certain members of the USFWS and the USGS. This injustice will not be allowed to stand. USARK is doing what is necessary to respond to the administrations current stance and hopes that upon closer scrutiny of the facts they will decide on an alternative course of action. USARK is making sure that all the preparations necessary to take this process to the next level are taken into consideration. We are confident that if this ever gets in front of a federal judge that the facts will speak for themselves and the Reptile Nation will prevail. We encourage someone from the upper levels of the administration to investigate this process before it costs the American taxpayers any more money.
Stay tuned … USARK will keep you updated as news breaks regarding the Information Quality Act Challenge, Appeal and Rule Making process.
Click here to read the USARK Information Quality Act Appeal>>
Andrew Wyatt is the President of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) and has been an avid herp enthusiast for more than 35 years. He has traveled the world and has had his animals featured in a number of television productions. For more information about USARK, click here.
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