The phrase better late than never certainly applies to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
We’re talking about the actual governor-appointed commission that sets policy for just about every aspect of hunting, fishing and wildlife management in this state.
At this month’ meeting an FWC press release reported that Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto directed the staff to come up with a new rule that would set criteria for evaluating the risk involving the introduction of exotic species to Florida that would lead to banning the importation of some species.
It is a great move even though it’s at least 20 or 30 years too late.
The reason for the delay was visible in plain view in the FWC press release.
“We are not trying to hurt the industry, but the time has come that we say Florida is off limits to any new species,” Barreto said.
The industry to which he was referring is the exotic pet industry, which is responsible for the Burmese pythons, tegus, Nile monitor lizards and untold numbers of species of parrots and other exotic birds as well as fish that together either compete with native species for food and nesting habitat or prey on native species to the point that it endangers local populations. Or in the case of iguanas, sometimes clog toilets and fall on unsuspecting yoga fans.
For too long FWC has been unwilling to take an aggressive position against the industry for a simple reason: politics.
The concern is that if wildlife officials crack down too hard on the exotic animal trade, business owners will complain to the Florida Legislature, which approves the agency’s budget.
It would not be unprecedented.
Several years ago an FWC proposal to classify white Ibis as a protected species brought a threat by some legislators to zero out the agency’s budget.
Maybe the tide is turning and it has finally dawned on more people in authority that wave after wave of invasive exotics is not a good thing for this state.
Meanwhile, it would be great if Florida’s new Commissioner of Agriculture & Consumers Services made a similar declaration to the nursery industry, which over the decades—sometimes with the active support of agriculture officials—has unleashed a long list of exotic plants into gardens and farms that eventually found their way into the wild, where they overwhelmed and degraded native habitat.
Critics of environmental land conservation efforts often ask “How much is enough?”
That’s certainly an apt question to pose to the businesses whose actions in promoting the sale of invasive exotic species—and aggressively pushing back on efforts to rein in the practice–have made managing Florida’s conservation lands more difficult and expensive.
It is well past time for a major crackdown.