United States Association of Reptile Keepers, Florida

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  • Thursday, September 22, 2022 12:31 PM | USARK FL (Administrator)


    Above: Ornate diamondback terrapin in Hernando County, FL (Photos by Daniel Parker)

    The Diamondback terrapin is a unique species of turtle that inhabits Florida’s salt marshes and mangrove swamps. Due to their beauty and personable nature, people all over the world like to keep terrapins as pets. The high demand for terrapins in Asia, especially China, has driven illegal wild collection to dangerous and potentially unsustainable levels. USARK FL (United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida) has proposed a program to FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) to allow the legal captive breeding of terrapins in Florida to supply the trade with captive bred animals, which it believes would discourage illegal collection of wild terrapins.

    That proposal may be seen here:

     A Proposal for the Captive Breeding of Diamondback Terrapins.pdf 

    The remarkable recovery of the American alligator through farming efforts has proven that captive breeding of reptiles can be effective in reducing poaching by supplying the market with captive-produced products. Brendan J. Moyle of Massey University documents this occurrence in his article, Conservation that’s more than skin-deep:Alligator farming. (below)

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257538487_Conservation_that's_more_than_skin-deep_Alligator_farming 

    National Geographic reported that after the Colombian government permitted a captive breeding program of Poison dart frogs to supply the international pet trade, the price of the most highly-demanded species fell from $150 to $35, thus making it economically impractical for illegal traffickers to risk collecting and smuggling them.

    https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/poison-dart-frogs-breeding-colombia-wildlife 

    The BBC recently reported that scientists at the University of Durham in the UK have advocated for captive breeding and commercialization as a strategy to recover songbird populations which have been impacted by over collection for the Asian pet trade.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-62918776 

    Dr. Whit Gibbons of University of Georgia supports the captive breeding proposal for Diamondback terrapins. “The availability of captive-bred animals removes pressure on wild populations,” said Gibbons. He added, “USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service) has given a positive statement about alligator snappers being raised in captivity.”  Gibbons refers to a recent USFWS document proposing the Federal listing of the Alligator Snapping turtle, which states: “The service recognizes that turtle farming can alleviate harvest of wild stock and provides a means to serve international markets without affecting wild populations in the future.”

    The examples of other species of animals where captive breeding has been implemented as a solution to reduce pressure on wild populations are encouraging. Diamondback terrapins mature quickly and breed easily in captivity. They produce many offspring, ensuring that breeders would be able to impact markets fairly quickly.

    “Florida’s turtle breeders are some of the best in the world and would have the ability to produce many thousands of captive bred terrapins within a few years if allowed to do so,” said USARK FL spokesperson Daniel Parker, who is also a conservation biologist and turtle breeder. “This program should be regulated to ensure that any turtles sold can be verified as captive bred offspring and that adult breeder animals are not replaced with wild caught animals,” added Parker. 

    Threats to wild Diamondback terrapins include habitat destruction, sea level rise, mortality from drowning in crab traps, road mortality, predation, and poaching. Florida’s turtle breeders can help address at least one of those threats. USARK FL supports a program allowing for captive breeding of terrapins and the sale of captive bred offspring. The result would be the availability of a captive bred alternative to poached wild caught animals in the market. 

    Portia Sapp, the Aquaculture Director for FDACS (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) said that her department is willing to administrate a terrapin breeding program, as they already do with other turtle farmers, so the program would not require FWC to incur additional administrative costs.

    The captive breeding of Diamondback terrapins will be discussed at the next FWC Commission meeting on September 28, 2022. Concerned citizens may give public comments at the meeting or comment online.

    See this link for more information:

    https://myfwc.com/about/commission/commission-meetings/september-2022/

    Below: Hatchling Ornate diamondback terrapin in Pasco County, FL (Photo by Daniel Parker)


  • Tuesday, August 16, 2022 6:45 PM | USARK FL (Administrator)

    Photo of Albino Green Iguana by Travis deLagerheimPhoto of Albino Green Iguana by Travis deLagerheim

    A judge is allowing the United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida (USARK FL) to argue that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) lacks the constitutional authority to regulate captive animals under the facts presented in case number 2021-CA-977 in Leon County Circuit Court. USARK FL is challenging FWC's "Prohibited Species" rules, which they say have been detrimental to pet keepers and small businesses dealing with species such as iguanas and tegus. USARK FL says that FWC's enforcement of these rules has led to the confiscation and euthanasia of animals, as well as reptile breeders moving out of the state as economic refugees. Judge John C. Cooper granted the motion requesting permission to add this claim at a hearing held August 15, 2022. USARK FL expects a written order to that effect to be entered soon.

    An excerpt from the filing is included below:

    "Since the filing of their original complaint, Plaintiffs have conducted substantial discovery and learned additional facts that require them to amend and clarify the claims and issues to be tried. Plaintiffs have learned additional information regarding the basis (or lack thereof) for Defendant Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (the “Commission”) promulgation of the challenged rules. Article IV, section 9 of the Florida Constitution grants to the Commission the “regulatory and executive powers of the state with respect to wild animal life.” Art. IV, § 9, Fla. Const. (emphasis added). It is on this basis that the Commission has promulgated the rules in question. The Florida Constitution does not define the term “wild animal life.” Through discovery, the Commission, via its agency representative, has taken the position that its jurisdiction over wild animal life extends to any species that is not domesticated. . . . Plaintiffs’ animals are commonly husbanded, multiple generations removed from the wild, often to yield “morphs” with attributes not found in the wild, but the Commission states these animals are subject to regulation regardless of actual impacts on animals in the wild. The risks that Defendants identify are purely speculative because they are not grounded in any known escapes. The purported risks are also misleading and overstated. 

    The Commission has even taken the position that it may shutter an entire industry on the basis of misleading and untested economic risks and human health and safety risks of Plaintiffs’ animals. . . . . But neither purported jurisdictional basis is mentioned in the Commission’s constitutional mandate. Consequently, Plaintiffs request leave to amend their complaint to add a new claim (Count III), which requests a declaratory judgment that the Commission lacks jurisdiction to promulgate the challenged rules on these facts."

    The memorandum of law in support of the motion may be viewed at this link: Memorandum Of Law.pdf

    The first amended initial complaint may be viewed at this link: First Amended Complaint.pdf

    The full case docket as of August 16, 2022, may be viewed at this link: 2022.08.16 Docket Sheet 2021-CA-977.pdf

    If you want to see the most up-to-date case docket, you can do so using the search function on the Leon County Circuit Court website; just input the case number (2021 CA 977):  https://cvweb.leonclerk.com/public/online_services/search_courts/search_by_name.asp

  • Monday, July 25, 2022 12:00 PM | USARK FL (Administrator)

    Gopher Tortoise Rescued by Woman Who Now Fears Repercussions from FWC-PRESS RELEASE_7-23-22.pdf   

    Woman Rescues Gopher Tortoise Trapped in Collapsed Burrow, Fears Repercussions from FWC after Reporting

     

    The Gopher tortoise is a Threatened Species at the forefront of the conflict between developers and advocates for Florida’s wildlife and environment-Photo by Daniel Parker 

    Auburndale—Information on a group of Threatened Gopher tortoises submitted months earlier to FWC could have prevented the collapsing of burrows by contractors, according to animal advocate Jordan Spring. Spring is concerned about the dismissive and even hostile response she got when she reported the tortoise emergency to FWC, the very agency funded by taxpayers to safeguard Florida’s Threatened and Endangered Wildlife. In fact, Spring says that an FWC officer and dispatcher not only dismissed the photos she had taken as evidence of the tortoises’ presence, but also accused her several times of trespassing. She fears repercussions from FWC after she reopened a collapsed burrow to free a trapped Gopher tortoise, though that burrow was on land she had permission to access.

    Spring, who is a volunteer for United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida (USARK FL), was given permission by the previous landowner to access the 33 acre site, which was later sold to the real estate development company KB Home. She took photos and GPS points of the tortoise burrows there in June, before the property was sold, and submitted those records on the FWC website.

    Spring has been in touch via phone and text with FWC biologist Kyle Brown, who she says has been very cordial. Brown sent Spring a survey map of the development site, which is known as “Hickory Ranch Subdivision.” This map was created by Bio-Tech Consulting Inc., a firm hired by the developer to record Gopher tortoise burrows and relocate the tortoises. Brown indicated to Spring that two Gopher tortoises had been removed from the site. However, Brown was unaware that some of the tortoise burrows found by Spring were different than the ones documented by Bio-Tech. Spring is concerned that the survey map did not include all of the tortoise burrows that she had documented. “I would like to know how my reports never made it on a sighting map on the website,” said Spring. “That could have prevented this,” she added. At least one of the burrows was in heavy brush and may have been missed by the survey. Spring added her own points to the survey map and sent that to Brown to show where she had seen the other burrows.


    Gopher tortoise survey of “Hickory Ranch Subdivision by Bio-Tech Consulting Inc., to which Jordan Spring added her records of burrows as red dots

    Ken Robertson, who owns land adjacent to the development site, said he observed the land being cleared by a crew with heavy equipment. Robertson says that he saw an excavator with jaws for grabbing trees and a front end loader with a bucket clearing the land. He also saw multiple pickup trucks and a crew installing silt fencing along the site. 

    Spring later discovered that workers had actually collapsed a Gopher tortoise burrow on Robertson’s property, near where the silt fence had been installed. She had documented the tortoise burrows on Robertson’s property back in April. “There was a tortoise that had a badly burnt shell from a very old burn,” said Robertson. He added, “We have lived here about 15 years. I’ve seen him since we moved in.” Robertson said that the previous owner of the property being developed lived there for over 50 years and said that there had never been a fire there in that time, so that tortoise must have been very old. “He would cross my front yard going to the neighbor’s front yard and then go back the same way he came,” said Robertson. “I haven’t seen him since all this started.”

    Spring called Brown to convey her concern that burrows were being collapsed as workers cleared the land. Brown directed her to call FWC law enforcement. FWC Officer Jerod Gadd responded to Spring’s call. Spring sent Gadd photos of the burrows, but Gadd indicated to her that he saw no evidence that warranted him taking action. He warned her not to trespass on the land. Spring specifically asked Gadd to look for the tortoise burrow that was collapsed on Robertson’s land. Gadd indicated to Spring that he saw no evidence of a burrow there. “FWC law enforcement says we have no case, that there is not enough evidence that there was a tortoise burrow,” said Spring. 


    Jordan Spring dug this Gopher tortoise burrow out after it had been collapsed by contractors who crossed onto a neighboring lot while clearing land in Auburndale-Photo by Jordan Spring 

    Biologist Daniel Parker has years of experience surveying and researching Gopher tortoises through his work with Ashton Biodiversity Research and Preservation Institute, University of Central Florida, and DRMP. “Gopher tortoises may dig their burrows up to 40 feet long,” said Parker. He added, “When Gopher tortoise burrows are collapsed by heavy equipment, tortoises are often trapped and unable to escape; this is called entombment. When Gopher tortoises are entombed they usually don’t die immediately. They may take months to waste away before eventually dying. You do have a window of time to rescue the tortoises, if you can find the burrows.”

    After Gadd left the scene, Spring grabbed a shovel and tried to find the collapsed Gopher tortoise burrow on Robertson’s land. Within five minutes she found the burrow and was able to dig to reopen the entrance, effectively freeing the Gopher tortoise trapped inside. With Robertson listening in, Spring called FWC dispatch back to tell them that she had found one of the burrows. The FWC dispatcher told her that Officer Gadd had left a note about her trespassing. Spring once again told them that she had permission to access Robertson’s land and had not trespassed. She asked the dispatcher if he would like to talk to Robertson. The dispatcher declined. Spring never received a call back from Gadd or any other FWC law enforcement officers after her second call to dispatch. At this time, Spring believes that there may still be gopher tortoises entombed on the site. Her main concern is for the welfare of the tortoises and that she is anxious to see them rescued.


    Spring is concerned that surveyors missed this burrow that she photographed in heavy brush-Photo by Jordan Spring

    The Gopher tortoise is a terrestrial (land-dwelling) species of turtle that feeds mostly on grasses, herbs, and other plants. It is known as a “Keystone Species,” because its burrows provide shelter for hundreds of other species of animals. The Gopher tortoise is listed as a Threatened Species in Florida and may not be harmed or moved without a permit, except for on agricultural or mining sites, which are exempt from the regulation. Some developers have been issued "Incidental Take" permits by FWC, which allow Gopher tortoises to be entombed. However, most developers are required to hire permitted consultants to collect Gopher tortoises before construction begins. Developers do sometimes skirt the law to save the cost of relocation, as the fine for killing tortoises is often less than the cost of moving them. 

    FWC received criticism in recent months for an order by Executive Director Eric Sutton which conservation groups say made it easier for developers to remove tortoises from construction sites. Developers in Florida, who have been experiencing a period of record profits, have complained that the process of surveying and removing tortoises is too expensive. Sutton’s executive order reduced the mitigation costs that developers were required to pay for impacting Threatened Gopher tortoises. The order also allowed Gopher tortoises to be collected and housed in temporary pens, called “short term relocation sites,” before being eventually moved again to other sites. Commercial collection of turtles is theoretically illegal in Florida, as FWC rules say that “no wild caught turtle may be sold.” However, FWC rules do allow consultant companies, which are hired by developers, to collect Gopher tortoises from development sites for a fee, and then transfer them to “recipient sites.” The owners of the “recipient sites” are paid to take the Gopher tortoises. 

    Reference the following articles for more background on Gopher tortoise issues in Florida:

    FWC extends gopher tortoise order that conservationists say weakens protections | WUSF Public Media

    https://www.wmfe.org/fwc-extends-gopher-tortoise-order-that-conservationists-say-weakens-protections/196874

    Habitat loss forces FWC to temporarily relax gopher tortoise relocation guidelines – Fox13

    https://www.fox13news.com/news/habitat-loss-forces-fwc-to-temporarily-relax-gopher-tortoise-relocation-guidelines#amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&aoh=16585472829137&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.fox13news.com%2Fnews%2Fhabitat-loss-forces-fwc-to-temporarily-relax-gopher-tortoise-relocation-guidelines

    Waiving rules for moving Florida gopher tortoises helps only developers - Florida Phoenix

    https://floridaphoenix.com/2021/12/09/waiving-rules-for-moving-florida-gopher-tortoises-helps-only-developers/

    Pulte Homes destroys 22 FL tortoise burrows, pays a paltry penalty - Florida Phoenix

    https://floridaphoenix.com/2021/09/16/pulte-homes-destroys-22-fl-tortoise-burrows-pays-a-paltry-penalty/

     

    For more information on this topic, or to schedule an interview, please call 863-441-5067 or email media@usarkfl.net.

  • Monday, July 11, 2022 12:00 PM | USARK FL (Administrator)

    Animal Keepers to Oppose More Regulations at FWC Commission Meeting in Jacksonville July 13-14

     

    The Commissioners of FWC will meet July 13-14, 2022 in Jacksonville, FL. They will vote on the “Injuries and Escapes” Final Rule on July 13. This rule requires animal keepers to report injuries to themselves, thus requiring citizens to disclose their medical history to the government. Those injuries may also be considered violations. Animal keepers are concerned that the government requiring people to divulge private medical history is a violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which grants citizens the "Right to Privacy." This rule also requires keepers to report escapes, even for innocuous native Class III species. These escapes may be considered violations. Animal keepers are concerned that the government requiring people to report themselves for potential violations is a violation of the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

    The United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida (USARK FL) posted on its Facebook page, “Once again, FWC has gone through the motions of a process to appear to consider stakeholder input, but they have failed to actually take our concerns into account in the language of the final rule. They have not addressed the basic concerns that caused the Commissioners to delay to the vote on the original language of this rule back in December of 2021.”

     

    Animal keepers are also concerned about the proceedings of the FWC “Technical Assistance Group” (TAG) meetings on Nonnative Species in which FWC staff have introduced the terms “Unrestricted List,” “Restricted List,” and “Not Allowed List” as part of a potential regulatory approach for nonnative species. Members of the group, who are appointed by FWC, have urged FWC to take a “guilty until proven innocent” approach in reference to allowing nonnative species to continue to be kept in captivity. The move towards discussion of only allowing certain species to be kept in captivity struck a nerve with animal keepers on the TAG, including fish and reptile keepers. 

     

    Joe Hiduke of Nautilus Wholesale, who represented tropical fish keepers on the group, said of the meeting, “It was fascinating being involved in two days of meetings regarding regulatory options that include a 'white list' or 'safe list', but using every conceivable name other than 'white list' or 'safe list'. The current description du jour is 'unrestricted list', a list of species that could be possessed and sold in Florida without restrictions. Which sounds like a good thing for industry until you consider what it takes to be on an unrestricted list, and what happens to the fish (and all other wildlife) that aren't able to go on an unrestricted list. Hint-prohibition is a type of restriction. One of our unsettled details is whether species that haven't been through a risk screening are considered safe until proven otherwise, or considered prohibited until proven safe.

     

    These nonnative species issues are not on the agenda for this meeting, but animal keepers who are concerned with these issues may give comments on “Items not on the Agenda” on July 14.

     

    The FWC Commission Meeting agenda and exact language of the “Injury and Escapes” rule may be found here:

    https://myfwc.com/.../comm.../commission-meetings/july-2022/

    FWC Commission Meeting July 13-14, 2022

    Adam W. Herbert University Center

    2000 Alumni Drive

    Jacksonville, Florida, 32224

     

    For more information and photos on this topic, or to schedule an interview, please call Daniel Parker at 863-441-5067 or email media@usarkfl.net.

  • Monday, July 11, 2022 8:00 AM | USARK FL (Administrator)

    Petition asking DeSantis to Reign in FWC Reaches 15,000

     


    https://www.change.org/p/fwc-mandates-threaten-pet-owners-and-small-business-fl-animal-owners-ask-gov-to-intervene

     

    A Change.org petition asking Governor Ron DeSantis to address stakeholder complaints and reign in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has received 15,000 signatures since it was posted by “Florida Animal Owners and Businesses.” The petition has garnered widespread support from keepers of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and invertebrates. See the text of the petition below:

    *IMPORTANT: Only sign this petition if you are a Florida resident.*

    Governor DeSantis,
    The failure of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to work with animal owners on rules that balance the interests of stakeholders with conservation needs has created a tragic situation leading to unjustifiable personal property seizures, euthanasia of animals, denial of licenses, and severe economic impacts to businesses, especially small businesses. Our industries and hobbies are being systematically eroded by an ideology to remove animals from our lives.

    The adoption of unjust regulations in 2021 has already caused some business owners to flee the state as economic refugees. This year, FWC approved a package of harsh regulations that make it more difficult for animal owners to transfer their personal property, in addition to other implications posing serious constitutional questions. FWC staff is currently considering the creation of a biased “Safe List” that would be the most devastating blow to animal keepers yet. This would allow only a restricted list of species to be kept while banning all others. It would set a new standard for extreme government overreach in Florida.

    We, the undersigned Florida residents, respectfully request that your office review these matters to address constituent complaints that have fallen on deaf ears when reported. If the review reveals any misconduct, we ask that a full investigation be performed by the Office of Inspector General or other appropriate entity. Furthermore, we appeal for the restructuring of FWC as an agency that genuinely collaborates with animal keepers and business owners.

    Animal keepers remember a time when Staff, the Commissioners, and the stakeholders worked together on reasonable regulations for animal welfare, human safety, and conservation of natural resources. A recent policy shift has created a palpable divide between FWC and those who responsibly own and work with animals in Florida. FWC leadership no longer considers industry expertise in the creation of sound policy. There is a blatant disregard for the impact that destroying Florida’s unique animal industries will have on the State’s economic future.

    The owners of reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals come together with one voice to ask you, Governor DeSantis, to please direct FWC to suspend its harsh mandates that threaten our livelihoods and the lives of our animals, and consider our input in the process of creating fair regulations.

    Respectfully,
    Florida Animal Owners and Businesses

    *IMPORTANT: Only sign this petition if you are a Florida resident.

     

    The petition was first publicly promoted by Calusa Herpetological Society President Elaine Davis at the society’s meeting on June 2. “The pet industry is huge in Florida and the FWC rules are making it harder and harder for both pet owners and breeders,” said Davis. She added, “As regulations get tighter, many people could potentially be left unable to legally keep the pets that they love.”

     

    Fish keeper and member of the Florida Tropical Fish Farmers Association (FTFFA) Joe Hiduke said, "Florida residents are signing the petition because they are concerned about the future of the aquarium hobby. Having an aquarium or terrarium in a home or classroom is among the best ways to develop a bond with the natural world. The aquarium hobby includes thousands of species of fish, and the members of our hobby are very concerned that most of these will no longer be available. There is no practical way to evaluate all of the species of fish in the trade (let alone mollusks, crustaceans, reptiles, birds, etc). Hobbyists are terrified that we'll end up with a list of allowed species that only includes the most basic types that are traded in high volume. This essentially eliminates the hobby from the state that has been at the forefront of raising ornamental fish for decades.”

     

    Steven Nekhaila, Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Florida, weighed in on FWC’s actions. “The FWC should not be making the rules on who can own what type of animal, especially broad stroke laws which essentially “whitelist” specific pets while banning all others. There needs to be specific consideration to diverse and unique industries which exotic pets support, which also preserve and protect those species from annihilation.” Nekhaila continues, “The release of animals into the ecosystem is certainly a concern, but by blaming all pet owners the FWC hurts those acting responsibly without actually addressing the problem.”

     

    The petition has been widely shared on social media. On Facebook, Kenu Turk commented, “FWC has been giving way too much power without any checks and balances in place.” Turk adds, “They say they don’t have an agenda but everything they do moves further and further towards the agenda of no more exotic animal ownership or possession in this state. They flat out lie through their teeth.”

     

    Daniel Hurd commented, “FWC justifies its budget by creating these new senseless rules and laws that make it appear they “care” about the environment and Florida’s native fauna. I’m not for defunding the police, but I am for defunding the FWC or even disbanding and replacing them with an organization more similar to the DNR other states have.”

     

    Harmony Merz commented, “If you love your pet reptiles, birds, fish etc., you should be signing this petition. FWC is overstepping and trying to take away our rights to have our pets. There are several responsible Florida animal businesses and all of their employees that will lose their livelihoods. I am one of those employees. This will have a great economic impact on Florida.”

     

    Sarah Greek commented, “I love FWC but they are going about it in the wrong way. We are signing to get help from our great governor to help save our rights to own our animals.”

     

    The Commissioners of the FWC are appointed by the Governor. DeSantis appointed the three of the current sitting Commissioners, including Chairman Rodney Barreto. Though the position of FWC Commissioner is unpaid, an appointment to FWC is an honor often bestowed upon influential political donors. The FWC Commissioners vote to approve rules which are crafted and presented by FWC staff. These rules may have far-reaching consequences for the citizens that they regulate. 

     

    FWC’s internal documents acknowledge that their regulations will hurt small business. The “Notice of Proposed Rule” for rule 68A-6.003 said, “The Agency has determined that this will have an adverse impact on small business or likely increase directly or indirectly regulatory costs in excess of $200,000 in the aggregate within one year after the implementation of the rule.” According to reptile keepers, the proposed rule does not give them the same due process and private property rights as other small businesses in Florida. 

     

    Florida’s reptile keepers believe that the actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) threaten their ability to continue to operate as small businesses. The President of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida (USARK Florida), Elizabeth Wisneski, wrote a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis asking him to protect the small businesses of reptile keepers. “Our businesses are threatened by regulations being imposed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Conservatively, the reptile industry in Florida generates at least $225 million annually, and we are an industry comprised entirely of small businesses,” says Wisneski. “We contribute significantly to the economy of the state and we rely on the incomes of our businesses to support our families and our employees.” She asks that Governor DeSantis, “stand up for our small businesses, as you have for other businesses in Florida.”  

     

    In her letter to Governor DeSantis, Wisneski explains, “At a recent public hearing on these proposed rules, FWC staff was asked if a single violation could be the basis for the revocation of a captive wildlife license. Staff replied, ‘Yes.’ The idea of someone’s entire business being shut down over one violation, which could be something as innocuous as a paperwork error, is unprecedented in our great State.” At the FWC Commission meeting on May 3, 2022 in Gainesville, FWC Major Grant Burton confirmed that “a warning is a violation.”

     

    She adds, “In December 2021, the FWC proposed a new package of harsh regulations that will make it more difficult for business owners to transfer their personal property, in some cases, preclude their ability to conduct business, require them to divulge private medical information, require them to self-report facts that could lead to criminal violations, and impose severe, punitive penalties. All of these implications pose, inter alia, serious constitutional questions,” said Wisneski.


     

    Letter to Governor Ron DeSantis from USARK FL President Elizabeth Wisneski

     

    For more information and photos on this topic, or to schedule an interview, please call Daniel Parker at 863-441-5067 or email media@usarkfl.net.

  • Wednesday, July 06, 2022 3:16 PM | USARK FL (Administrator)


    ‘Iguana Lady’ Jeanne Brodsky with several color variations of Green Iguana- Photo by Mike Stocker

    This morning when I woke up, I sat down to drink my coffee and check my phone for messages.  A Google news alert grabbed my attention. Channel 7 News Miami ‘We get a lot of Iguana calls.‘

    It turns out that the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, including the SWAT team, has been sent out numerous times to respond to calls of sniper like activities. 

    To quote Channel 7 News, “Lt. Avery Figueras said emergency calls about people shooting at the big lizards, have created a big safety concern in the city, and not for the reptiles.“

    I don’t want to be the type of person that throws in your face the statement, “I told you so,” but I told you so.

    A couple of years ago, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) released statements to the media encouraging the public to kill the Common Green Iguana (Iguana iguana), because it was an "invasive species." After initial problems with that approach, they said, “This is not the Wild West,” and told people to "kill them humanely." However, they provided no instruction on what was considered humane. 

    FWC does not want to approach that subject, because there is no feasible way the public can humanely kill and exterminate the species. Many urban South Florida residents actually like the big lizards that seem to be peacefully coexisting with residents while, for the most part, not endangering native wildlife or landscapes. 

    FWC's goal was to get public interest and to create a hate mob towards this animal that has been documented to be established in South Florida since the 1950’s. FWC's other motivation for demonizing Common Green Iguanas was to stir up public support for banning this popular pet species in captivity.

    The real issue here is that there is a competition for South Florida’s real estate, not just for people but for animals too. Look at the property values now compared to the 1950’s. It’s amazing that South Floridian people can still survive here. Very few native animals or plants survive in South Florida's urban landscape, but Iguanas have found a way.

    In 2019, the Iguana ban passed and the killing continued. FWC did not allow a reasonable system for live Iguanas to continue to be caught out of the wild and exported out of the state as pets. 

    As Export Manager at Strictly Reptiles Inc., I sold and shipped farmed Iguanas. Less than 5% were sold to Florida destinations. I exported to countries around the world. This was a strong global market. FWC's Iguana Ban shut down that business.

    FWC said, "We don't want to export our invasive problem to other states." This seems silly knowing that Iguanas are very cold sensitive and can't even survive the winters as far north as Central Florida, much less other states. Cold winters kill off many Iguanas in South Florida.

    So, what has been accomplished by this ban/regulation?

    Eradication of the wild Common Green Iguana has not worked. There are more Common Green Iguanas visible in urban areas than before the 2019 ban, and it is getting worse.

    FWC shut down the business for the pet trade market. Pet trade dealers were banned and no longer allowed to buy and ship out of the state harvested or farm-raised live Common Green Iguanas. Licensed and Permitted dealers took a great revenue loss.

    FWC created a new revenue gain market for companies and individuals to be hired to kill lizards. FWC shifted the focus from live animal business to the killing-of-animals business.

    FWC promoted an action that led to animal cruelty.  They directed the public to kill Common Green Iguanas which has led to numerous animal cruelty treatments.

    FWC has created a safety hazard. The public, including children, are at risk while the “Wild West” hunters with their rifles and archery sets walk around neighborhoods and city environments. 

    There is a solution that is simple and will work:

    Call off the dogs. Stop promoting the killing of the Common Green Iguana to the public. Tell them to stop killing animals. Let the pest removal companies deal with that.

    Allow Pet Trade companies to buy and sell Common Green Iguanas. Allow licensed/permitted pet businesses with Class III licenses to buy wild harvested and farm-produced Iguanas, for the purpose of exporting out of the state of Florida.

    Allow the public to harvest live Common Green Iguanas. Let the public gain financial profit by doing something nice: harvesting live instead of killing.

    All this sends a much nicer statement to the world, that Florida is a beautiful state of tropical birds, flora, and fauna. We all want to protect it and love it.

    Thank you for your time and compassion.

    Sincerely,

    Jeanne Brodsky

    Jeanne Brodsky is a longtime South Florida resident with over 40 years’ experience in the pet business. She was an export manager and office manager for Strictly Reptiles Inc. in Hollywood for 32 years. Before that, she worked in sales for seven years at Pet Farm Inc. in Miami. She now works closely with Howard Fluker, the world-renowned breeder of Blue Diamond Iguanas. She was one of the largest marketer's of domestic and export sales of captive-produced iguanas from Iguana Farm-El Salvador before FWC made the Green Iguana a "Prohibited Species" in Florida.

  • Thursday, June 16, 2022 10:30 AM | USARK FL (Administrator)


    Petition asking DeSantis to Reign in FWC Reaches 12,000 Signatures

     

    https://www.change.org/p/fwc-mandates-threaten-pet-owners-and-small-business-fl-animal-owners-ask-gov-to-intervene?redirect=false

     

    A Change.org petition asking Governor Ron DeSantis to address stakeholder complaints and reign in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has received 12,000 signatures since it was posted two weeks ago by “Florida Animal Owners and Businesses.” The petition has garnered widespread support from keepers of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and invertebrates. See the text of the petition below:

    *IMPORTANT: Only sign this petition if you are a Florida resident.*

    Governor DeSantis,
    The failure of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to work with animal owners on rules that balance the interests of stakeholders with conservation needs has created a tragic situation leading to unjustifiable personal property seizures, euthanasia of animals, denial of licenses, and severe economic impacts to businesses, especially small businesses. Our industries and hobbies are being systematically eroded by an ideology to remove animals from our lives.

    The adoption of unjust regulations in 2021 has already caused some business owners to flee the state as economic refugees. This year, FWC approved a package of harsh regulations that make it more difficult for animal owners to transfer their personal property, in addition to other implications posing serious constitutional questions. FWC staff is currently considering the creation of a biased “Safe List” that would be the most devastating blow to animal keepers yet. This would allow only a restricted list of species to be kept while banning all others. It would set a new standard for extreme government overreach in Florida.

    We, the undersigned Florida residents, respectfully request that your office review these matters to address constituent complaints that have fallen on deaf ears when reported. If the review reveals any misconduct, we ask that a full investigation be performed by the Office of Inspector General or other appropriate entity. Furthermore, we appeal for the restructuring of FWC as an agency that genuinely collaborates with animal keepers and business owners.

    Animal keepers remember a time when Staff, the Commissioners, and the stakeholders worked together on reasonable regulations for animal welfare, human safety, and conservation of natural resources. A recent policy shift has created a palpable divide between FWC and those who responsibly own and work with animals in Florida. FWC leadership no longer considers industry expertise in the creation of sound policy. There is a blatant disregard for the impact that destroying Florida’s unique animal industries will have on the State’s economic future.

    The owners of reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals come together with one voice to ask you, Governor DeSantis, to please direct FWC to suspend its harsh mandates that threaten our livelihoods and the lives of our animals, and consider our input in the process of creating fair regulations.

    Respectfully,
    Florida Animal Owners and Businesses

    *IMPORTANT: Only sign this petition if you are a Florida resident.

     

    The petition was first publicly promoted by Calusa Herpetological Society President Elaine Davis at the society’s meeting on June 2. “The pet industry is huge in Florida and the FWC rules are making it harder and harder for both pet owners and breeders,” said Davis. She added, “As regulations get tighter, many people could potentially be left unable to legally keep the pets that they love.”

     

    Fish keeper and member of the Florida Tropical Fish Farmers Association (FTFFA) Joe Hiduke said, "Florida residents are signing the petition because they are concerned about the future of the aquarium hobby. Having an aquarium or terrarium in a home or classroom is among the best ways to develop a bond with the natural world. The aquarium hobby includes thousands of species of fish, and the members of our hobby are very concerned that most of these will no longer be available. There is no practical way to evaluate all of the species of fish in the trade (let alone mollusks, crustaceans, reptiles, birds, etc). Hobbyists are terrified that we'll end up with a list of allowed species that only includes the most basic types that are traded in high volume. This essentially eliminates the hobby from the state that has been at the forefront of raising ornamental fish for decades.”

     

    Steven Nekhaila, Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Florida, weighed in on FWC’s actions. “The FWC should not be making the rules on who can own what type of animal, especially broad stroke laws which essentially “whitelist” specific pets while banning all others. There needs to be specific consideration to diverse and unique industries which exotic pets support, which also preserve and protect those species from annihilation.” Nekhaila continues, “The release of animals into the ecosystem is certainly a concern, but by blaming all pet owners the FWC hurts those acting responsibly without actually addressing the problem.”

     

    The petition has been widely shared on social media. On Facebook, Kenu Turk commented, “FWC has been giving way too much power without any checks and balances in place.” Turk adds, “They say they don’t have an agenda but everything they do moves further and further towards the agenda of no more exotic animal ownership or possession in this state. They flat our lie through their teeth.”

     

    Daniel Hurd commented, “FWC justifies its budget by creating these new senseless rules and laws that make it appear they “care” about the environment and Florida’s native fauna. I’m not for defunding the police, but I am for defunding the FWC or even disbanding and replacing them with an organization more similar to the DNR other states have.”

     

    Harmony Merz commented, “If you love your pet reptiles, birds, fish etc., you should be signing this petition. FWC is overstepping and trying to take away our rights to have our pets. There are several responsible Florida animal businesses and all of their employees that will lose their livelihoods. I am one of those employees. This will have a great economic impact on Florida.”

     

    Sarah Greek commented, “I love FWC but they are going about it in the wrong way. We are signing to get help from our great governor to help save our rights to own our animals.”

     

    The Commissioners of the FWC are appointed by the Governor. DeSantis appointed the three of the current sitting Commissioners, including Chairman Rodney Barreto. Though the position of FWC Commissioner is unpaid, an appointment to FWC is an honor often bestowed upon influential political donors. The FWC Commissioners vote to approve rules which are crafted and presented by FWC staff. These rules may have far-reaching consequences for the citizens that they regulate.

     

    FWC’s internal documents acknowledge that their regulations will hurt small business. The “Notice of Proposed Rule” for rule 68A-6.003 said, “The Agency has determined that this will have an adverse impact on small business or likely increase directly or indirectly regulatory costs in excess of $200,000 in the aggregate within one year after the implementation of the rule.” According to reptile keepers, the proposed rule does not give them the same due process and private property rights as other small businesses in Florida. 

     

    Florida’s reptile keepers believe that the actions of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) threaten their ability to continue to operate as small businesses. The President of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida (USARK Florida), Elizabeth Wisneski, wrote a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis asking him to protect the small businesses of reptile keepers. “Our businesses are threatened by regulations being imposed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Conservatively, the reptile industry in Florida generates at least $225 million annually, and we are an industry comprised entirely of small businesses,” says Wisneski. “We contribute significantly to the economy of the state and we rely on the incomes of our businesses to support our families and our employees.” She asks that Governor DeSantis, “stand up for our small businesses, as you have for other businesses in Florida.” 

     

    In her letter to Governor DeSantis, Wisneski explains, “At a recent public hearing on these proposed rules, FWC staff was asked if a single violation could be the basis for the revocation of a captive wildlife license. Staff replied, ‘Yes.’ The idea of someone’s entire business being shut down over one violation, which could be something as innocuous as a paperwork error, is unprecedented in our great State.” At the FWC Commission meeting on May 3, 2022 in Gainesville, FWC Major Grant Burton confirmed that “a warning is a violation.”

     

    She adds, “In December 2021, the FWC proposed a new package of harsh regulations that will make it more difficult for business owners to transfer their personal property, in some cases, preclude their ability to conduct business, require them to divulge private medical information, require them to self-report facts that could lead to criminal violations, and impose severe, punitive penalties. All of these implications pose, inter alia, serious constitutional questions,” said Wisneski.


    Letter to Governor Ron DeSantis from USARK FL President Elizabeth Wisneski

    At the May FWC meeting, animal keepers joined a crowd of dissatisfied stakeholders who condemned FWC’s management of species and habitats. These citizens included advocates for the gopher tortoise, a species which theoretically receives protection in Florida, but continues to be “entombed” in collapsed burrows to die a slow death at the hands of developers, as well as agricultural and mining operations.  Advocates for manatees, which have experienced unprecedented death rates in the past few years due to starvation and poisoning by herbicides, say that FWC’s herbicide spraying program has eliminated the manatees’ food sources as well as increased pollution flowing into waterways and estuaries. Anglers also condemn the herbicide program, saying that they observe fish kills after waters are sprayed by FWC contractors. Drone footage posted by YouTubers shows FWC contractors appearing to intentionally spray wildlife, including Endangered Snail kites and American alligators, with herbicide. 

     

    For more information and photos on this topic, or to schedule an interview, please call Daniel Parker at 863-441-5067 or email media@usarkfl.net.

  • Friday, April 22, 2022 5:21 PM | Christina Williams

    We don't want this Blanket ban 


    It's Not the right thing to do & will make the Bad people do more like smuggle and sell  and other bad stuff



    SAY NO TO THE BLANKET BAN

    Please

  • Monday, April 11, 2022 10:00 AM | USARK FL (Administrator)

    Do you have a license to keep reptiles? The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is seeking to regulate reptile businesses beyond the scope of their constitutional authority.  In effect, you will not have the same due process and private property rights as other small businesses in Florida. Speak your mind to FWC at the public hearing for rule 68A-6.003 on April 11th, 2022.  

     

    FWC Hearing on rule 68A-6.003 

    Monday, April 11, 2022 

    10:00am-5:00pm 

    Hilton UF Conference Center  

    1714 SW 34th St 

    Gainesville, FL 32607 

     


    You must arrive by 10:00am to sign up to speak. Even if you do not plan to speak, your presence and that of anyone you are able to bring will be important. Please bring your family and friends. This hearing could mark a turning point in our struggle to continue to keep reptiles and other animals in Florida.  We know it is on a Monday.  It is worth clearing your calendar to attend. 

     

    Background 

     

    FWC appears to have recently ramped up the denial and revocation of captive wildlife licenses. Their actions seem to demonstrate a strategy of denying licenses based on paperwork errors and other technical violations not related to the actual care or well-being of animals.  


    While FWC maintains that they do not anticipate a dramatic increase in revocations, they do admit that the number would increase, even if "violations" were for only paperwork or other trivial matters. It is difficult to deny that the addition of pages of new captive wildlife regulations in recent years will produce an increase in violations due to the difficulty of complying with these complex rules. FWC says that they anticipate a cost savings for the agency because they won’t have to inspect facilities that have had their permits revoked. 

     

    What does FWC rule 68A-6.003 do? 

     

    • This rule deprives small business owners involved in the keeping of reptiles and other animals of due process rights and private property rights. 

     

    • It makes it easier for FWC to revoke or deny licenses and confiscate animals.  

     

    • It punishes associates of reptile keepers for violations committed by other people.  

     

    • Under this rule, a business owner’s license could be revoked because of a violation by an employee.

     

    • A family member’s freedom to keep animals may be infringed because of a violation by another family member. This is like everyone in a household losing their driver’s licenses because one member of the family had his license suspended.

     

    The history and text of the rule may be found at this link: 

    https://www.flrules.org/gateway/ruleno.asp?id=68A-6.003 

     

  • Wednesday, March 02, 2022 8:00 AM | USARK FL (Administrator)

    This Wednesday, March 2nd and Thursday, March 3rd will be the next FWC commission meeting at the Tampa Convention Center, Ballroom D, 333 S. Franklin Street, Tampa 33602.

    USARK FL would like to encourage everyone to attend this event and invite your friends. 

    On Wednesday, staff will be proposing rules relating to nonnative species and on Thursday everyone will have an opportunity to speak on items not on the agenda. If you can not attend both days, we recommend you attend Thursday for "items not on the agenda". 

    Why is it important? This is YOUR opportunity to voice your concerns directly to the commissioners. Although staff makes recommendations for proposed rules to the commissioners, the commissioners have to vote and pass ALL proposed rules. If you don't share your concerns they will never know. 

    There is power in numbers! Let's show this commission how powerful we are!

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