Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Stuart (Pic via Facebook)

A bill aiming to ban the import or interstate trade of nine species of snakes (including Burmese pythons) is expected to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow. The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, would help combat Florida’s exotic snake problem. Experts estimate that there are anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 pythons currently in the Everglades area — and are likely there due to pet owners who have set them free. Pythons are fairly easy (and inexpensive) to acquire, but can grow to more than 20 feet in length and weigh over 100 pounds.

Rooney’s legislation (H.R. 511) would ban the import or interstate trade for use as pets of the Indian python (including Burmese python), reticulated python, Northern African python, Southern African python, boa constrictor, green anaconda, yellow anaconda, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, and Beni anaconda. The bill is narrowly crafted to address the trade in only nine species of snakes identified in a 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing “high” or “medium” risk of becoming established in the wild as an invasive species.

Exotic pets, like snakes, pose a major threat to native wildlife and can cost the government millions of dollars to address.

In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to ban these nine species of large constrictor snakes, which were identified by the United States Geological Survey report as posing a “significant risk.” In January 2012, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a final rule restricting trade in just four of the nine species  – a move that environmentalists argue isn’t enough. By including only some species, critics say the trade will simply shift to other species, like boa constrictors and reticulated pythons. Unless all nine species are banned, threats to public safety, animal welfare, and the environment will continue uninterrupted.

So far, Burmese pythons have proved the most present in the Everglades and surrounding areas, but African rock pythons are beginning to show up in large numbers, too. Boa constrictors have also been found (.pdf) in South Florida — and the species has a tendency to spread quickly, according to scientists.

Late last year, work crews in Miami-Dade County discovered a 16-foot Burmese python in the process of ingesting a 76-pound adult deer. An infamous incident in which a python in the Everglades attempted to swallow an adult alligator was captured on film by National Geographic in 2006. Just last Christmas, a South Florida family discovered a 13-foot python in their swimming pool.

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