Elektra, my female Solomon Islands eclectus parrot, Eclectus roratus solomonensis.
This is the smallest and most distinctively marked of all the subspecies of eclectus parrots.
A proposed new law, House Resolution #669 (HR 669), also known as The Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, is inching its way through congress [free PDF]. Tomorrow morning, it will be heard by the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife.
As written, HR 669 proposes to prevent or limit nonnative animals from becoming established in wild areas of the United States. If enacted, HR 669 will prevent the keeping and the propagation of animals that are not native to the United States that are deemed to potentially harmful to the economy or the environment, people, native species or their habitats. As written, HR 669 will require that all non-exempt exotic animals “pass” a scientific risk assessment before they can be included on the HR 669 “Approved” list prior to allowing them to enter the country or to be bred here. Species not included on the HR 669 Approved list can neither be imported or exported, nor even moved from one state to another, even if this species has been in the USA for years, decades or even longer. If a species is deemed to be potentially harmful, it will be added to the Banned list, and cannot be possessed, traded, sold, or bred, nor released into the wild.
Unfortunately, as written, HR 669 will not accomplish its stated goal for several reasons. First, it will devastate the pet industry: common but invasive exotic species (e.g. dogs, cats, goldfish and common barnyard animals) are specifically exempted, but other species — parrots, fish, ferrets, hamsters and other animals — are not. If a pet owner can prove they owned a particular Banned or Unapproved exotic species prior to enactment of HR 669, they will be allowed to keep those animals, but all other restrictions will still apply. These restrictions are severe and punitive: when a pet owner dies, relocates to another state or country or otherwise cannot keep their Banned exotic species, the only fate for those animals is euthanization. Because many pet owners view their pets as family members, they may instead opt to illegally release their exotic animals into the wild under the cover of night to take their chances, for example. If the same situation occurs to an animal breeder, the entire collection of animals would be destroyed — at great emotional and financial expense.
Second, HR 669 assumes that all nonexempt exotic species are “guilty until proven innocent.” Thus as written, HR 669 would apparently mandate that the potential harm posed by all nonnative animals bred by zoos, aquariums and conservation organizations is assessed before these programs could continue. HR 669 makes no provision for geographical differences — let’s say an exotic species poses a threat in Hawaii but nowhere else in the country. In that case, HR 669 still requires that species be included on the federal Banned list. While a zoo, aquarium or conservation program could keep the animals in their possession, they could not apply for an exception, so all other restrictions would apply. Additionally, this would also affect scientific and biomedical research programs that rely on exotic animals. If one’s research species is viewed as a potential threat, this assessment might destroy the entire research program. Further, if USFWS does not assess a particular species for whatever reason, it would automatically become illegal to share those animals with one’s colleagues in a different state, which is fairly common in scientific and biomedical research circles.
Third, USFWS has only 36 months after HR 669 is passed to assess the potential invasiveness risk for all non-exempt exotic animals present in this country. There are more than 2500 species of nonnative tropical fishes alone that are currently kept and bred in this country, so USFWS will have to assess 2.5 species of fish — just fish — every day. This is an insurmountable task, particularly because there are literally tens of thousands of exotic birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, spiders and other invertebrates that are kept and bred throughout the USA by labs, zoos, conservation organizations, private collectors and pet breeders. Based on previous USFWS performance, we know that proper assessment takes four years per species on average, which is potentially problematic. For example, this time frame would be the death knell for short-lived species that would die out in captivity before the assessment process was complete. Since importation of most exotic animals into the USA is either prohibited or severely restricted by national and international laws, even if a short-lived exotic species was Approved, where would the founder stock come from? This assessment process is further complicated by USFWS’s long history of dismal funding, chronic under-staffing and general lack of adequate training.
Despite the fact that HR 669 proposes to prevent additional invasions by exotic species — a reasonable and laudable objective — a careful reading of this bill reveals that it will fail to achieve its stated goal. As written, HR 669 is misguided, vaguely worded and will cause more harm than good. I strongly urge the members of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife to amend or change the wording of this resolution to prevent harm to those who work or live with non-exempted exotic animals.