Everglades Python Hunt Would Set Terrible Precedent
Publicity Stunt Not Expected to Reduce Exotic Snake Population in National Park
Washington, DC — Everglades National Park’s announced plan to allow hunters to scour the park for pythons is misguided and likely illegal, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The plan is not expected to reduce the population of the invasive constrictors inside the park at all, but instead is admittedly being done as a gimmick to attract public attention.
Last week, Everglades Superintendent Pedro Ramos announced that he had approved “hunting zones” for pythons in the park under a State of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission program called the “Python Challenge” to take place in the winter of 2016. Python Challenge is a competition with cash prize awards in which anyone who buys a state hunting license may chase, capture and kill pythons.
While no one disputes that pythons introduced into Everglades National Park are a non-native, invasive species that has altered the park ecosystem, there are a few obstacles to the plan:
- As in most national parks, it is illegal for anyone other than National Park Service (NPS) employees or contractors to hunt animals of any kind inside Everglades National Park;
- The park has not done the environmental reviews, together with opportunities for public comment, required by federal law; and
- Despite claiming that the snakes collected will aid scientific research, there is no study design or research proposition to be validated. In fact, the Python Challenge bills itself as a “competition” not a study and is run under the auspices of a state game agency.
Moreover, Mr. Ramos concedes the hunt will not reduce the python population in the park at all but is meant to somehow raise public awareness so as to prevent future invasive infestations. He also suggests that hunters could be approved as “authorized agents” without explaining what that means.
“Superintendent Ramos appears to be making this up as he goes along but national parks are not supposed to be run from the seat of someone’s pants,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the last Python Challenge in 2013 drew 1,600 people from across the U.S. and Canada but did not dent the python population. “Most people already know that Everglades has a python problem but it is utterly mysterious why putting on a contest will avert the arrival of more invasive species.”
The decision, if it stands, would have broad implications beyond the borders of the Everglades. Using the same logic, NPS could next allow members of the public with state hunting licenses to pursue feral hogs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or any other national park troubled by non-native wildlife.
Unlike limited culls of animals deemed detrimental in other national parks in the past, the Everglades initiative is based on no scientific review nor has there been any open consideration of alternatives or opportunity for public input. Only once in NPS history has Congress approved the use of deputized agents for removal of wildlife – back in 1950, to reduce the elk population in Grand Teton National Park.
“The Everglades python hunt of 2016 is a misguided publicity stunt that would not improve, let alone solve, the python problem,” added Ruch whose organization is asking NPS to halt the park’s participation. “This would set a terrible precedent for no good reason. Unfortunately, what this episode really reflects is an advancing institutional decay in the quality of national park leadership.”