Over the last few days, there has been a fair amount of discussion about the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act (HR 669). Some of that has occurred in the comments on my blog post on the subject, and quite a bit more over at GrrlScientist’s blog. So far, I haven’t seen anything that leads me to change my view that the bill is, on the whole, a good piece of legislation.
There are two main objections that I’ve seen that I’d like to specifically look at. The first is the possible impact that the bill would have on breeding species for conservation purposes. The second involves the potential impact that the bill might have on the owners of some pet species, and on the exotic pet industry.
HR 669 and Conservation Breeding:
In the comments section of my earlier post and on his own blog, Bob O’Hara raised the concern that the bill could severely impact conservation breeding. He points to two separate reasons that this could become a problem – the permitting language in the bill does not appear to permit breeding, and if a captive species is ruled to be a potentially harmful invasive, existing breeding programs could be forced to come to a halt.
I think that the permitting language is vague enough that it could stand some improvement. As of right now, a literal reading of the bill’s language would seem to say that permits can only be issued for the importation of a species, so breeding, transportation across state lines, and everything else banned by the bill would still be prohibited. IANL, but I think that it’s also possible to interpret to mean that you are only prohibited from doing those things if you are prohibited from importing the species, and that an import permit would therefore also permit breeding, etc.
In either case, though, I think that it might be good to see that language clarified in the legislation. An amendment, or a revision in the Senate, would seem to be indicated. Done well, it would strengthen the bill by quite a bit. Like Bob, though, I think that this is a problem that calls for a drive to amend the legislation, not an effort to kill it.
I’m much less concerned than Bob is by the possibility that the bill might force an end to some captive breeding programs. A species can only be placed on the banned list under this bill if two conditions apply: the species must have the potential to become established as an invasive in the United States and it must have the potential to cause economic and/or environmental damage if it becomes established. If we’re breeding species in captivity in the United States that fit both those criteria, it might be a very good idea to re-examine the wisdom of those programs.
HR 669 and the Pet Trade:
The most vocal opponents of 669 seem to be connected in some way to the exotic pet trade – whether as owners, advocates, or breeders and sellers. They are concerned primarily because cats, dogs, and goldfish are specifically protected by this legislation, but their pet species are not. Their concern is, for the most part, understandable. I’m more than willing to accuse corporations like PetSmart with being more concerned about their profit margin than anything else, but that simply doesn’t hold true for most of the individuals and groups that are registering concern. Most of the people who breed and care for exotic pets are not doing it for money. They do it because they have a genuine love for their pets.
Despite their concerns, I think that the mechanisms in this bill are both more fair and more likely to be effective than any other approach I can think of. Any effort to restrict the entry of potential invasives that is going to have any hope of making a lasting impact requires that each and every species be evaluated for potential harm before it is allowed to be imported. The two-list system proposed in the legislation is a simple and effective means of accomplishing that. When a species is proposed, it’s evaluated, and it’s placed either on a banned list, or an allowed list.
It would, of course, be possible for the legislation to be expanded to include more species. That might address the concerns of pet owners, but I don’t think it would be fair or reasonable. That’s a process that would simply favor whatever species have the most effective lobbyists, and it would place the determination of whether or not those species might be harmful in the hands of Congress. The process outlined in the bill, where the Fish and Wildlife Service makes those determinations over the course of months and with public input and comments is more likely to be effective, more transparent, and more fair.
As I’ve said before, I would have been happier if the legislation did not come with a small list of already permitted species. However, there is no doubt that every one of the species on that list falls into the Section 4(b)(1)(B) category – species that are harmful to the environment, but are already so widespread that any import prohibitions or restrictions would have no practical utility. Most of the pet species that bird, fish, and other breeding groups are concerned about probably fall into either that category, or the “not harmful/won’t become established in the wild” group.
A couple of people have pointed out that it will be hard to finish the preliminary list in the time that the bill allows. I certainly wouldn’t oppose giving the Fish and Wildlife Service another year or two, but I don’t think that’s as much of a problem as some folks think.
Keep in mind that, as I mentioned above, Section 4(b)(1)(B) of the bill says that species that may be harmful but are already so well established that import restrictions are useless “shall” be included on the preliminary list of allowed species. That’s not a determination that requires a full scientific examination of the potential harm that might be caused. All that’s required there is the knowledge that the species is already widespread. It’s also possible for species to be added to the “cats and dogs” section of the list. All that’s required there is a determination that the species is “common and clearly domesticated” (Section 14(5)(d)). That, too, is not something that will require a lot of time in many cases.