How much would you need to be paid to go into the swamp to hunt snakes?
Florida, the national leader in providing reasons why America can’t have nice things, has a bit of a snake problem. For years, Floridians have imported exotic snakes, including giant Burmese Pythons, and then released them into the wild when they got too big for the aquarium.
Seriously, when a massive snake indigenous to an environment half-a-world away becomes too troublesome or dangerous to take care of, many, many people just drop it off on the street.
Unfortunately, these new state citizens take their newfound freedom and pump out over 80 eggs at a time, growing to 17-feet long and eating deer whole.
Congress has proven incapable of forging a solution to the problem, but Florida has got this figured out: Pay rednecks to go after the snakes with machetes!
The exotic snake population has now fully established itself as a species in the wild with disastrous results for the local ecosystem. Researchers say the snakes have wiped out up to 99% of the small mammals in the area. And while you may not shed a tear for the wood rat, as their prey diminishes, the odds increase that they’ll go after humans. Congressional testimony explains that small children have already been killed by these snakes.
In addition to Burmese Pythons, there are other python species that have been imported and dumped into the Everglades. And this is even worse news.
If the two python species mate, they may spawn a hybrid species, as has happened in captivity. And because of a biological phenomenon called hybrid vigor, there’s an off chance the resulting snakes could be hardier, more powerful predators—assuming they’re not sterile, as many hybrids are—USGS’s [Robert] Reed said.
Some Florida Republicans begged their Congressional colleagues to institute a ban on the import and collection of these species. But the rest of the Republicans on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs killed the bill earlier this month.
The subcommittee was lobbied by the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK), arguing that there’s no reason to believe a ban would stop “all” snake attacks and therefore no reason to even try. They also denied that snakes were even responsible for the decline in wild mammals.
Rep. Steve Southerland (also of Florida… but nowhere near the Everglades) declared the bill, “open season on business. It’s open season on enterprise, on freedom.” Does this political response sound familiar?
The bill would have codified an administrative ban that the Interior Department put in place at the beginning of 2012 and add a few additional species. In addition to lobbying to kill this bill, the USARK is mounting a legal attack on the Interior Department’s ban.
Or… maybe not. In the “Herp community,” which is seriously what snake lovers decided to call themselves, USARK is getting some resistance for collecting millions in cash and threatening, but never filing, lawsuits. Sadly I haven’t been able to identify any of the “six attorneys” described in the post linked above. But it looks like there’s some discord in the land of herpetophilia.
But a ban only stops the growth of the problem and Florida needs to do something about the snakes on the ground now. The state is woefully short on personnel to make a dent in the snake population. So they decided to harness their natural abundance of rednecks:
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has announced the 2013 Python Challenge beginning in January.
“We are hoping to gauge from the python challenge the effectiveness of using an incentive-based model as a tool to address this problem,” says Florida Wildlife Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson.
A grand prize of $1,500 will be awarded to the person who kills the most pythons, and $1,000 will go to the person who bags the longest one. According to the rules, road kill will not be eligible.
Participants will pay a $25 registration fee and complete an online training course. The training focuses on safety while hunting pythons.
It’s basically Whacking Day in Florida. While these species are constrictors and not venomous, it would take a lot more than the chance of getting $1,500 to get me to grab my machete and go after a snake capable of devouring a deer whole. Yes, I said “machete” because:
“We want to make sure this is done in a humane way,” Segelson said. The competition’s website lists several ways to kill a python “in a humane manner that results in immediate loss of consciousness and destruction of the brain.”
It suggests shooting the snake in the head with a firearm or decapitating it with a machete.
So a bunch of gun and sword-wielding snake hunters are going to start flooding into the swamp trying to cash in. Congrats, Florida. You found a way to add another of my biggest fears to the Everglades.
Joe Patrice is the author of Recess Appointment, a blog about political rhetoric, and he’ll be dropping in occasionally to write about the intersection of law and politics. To answer the question that you’re probably about to ask, he got his J.D. at NYU and spent ten years working at a Biglaw firm and a white-collar defense boutique. His favorite word is sesquipedalian.