Everglades Walks Back Big Python Hunt
Park “Python Challenge” Participation Limited to a Few “Authorized Agents”
Washington, DC — Everglades National Park will not open its doors to hundreds of python hunters early next year, according to its parent agency the National Park Service (NPS) in a letter to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, the park will limit its participation in the state-run invasive snake bounty contest to a handful of existing “Python Removal Authorized Agents.”
Denying that it would participate in a “hunt” within park boundaries—which would be illegal—NPS Southeastern Regional Director Sam Austin stipulated that only NPS authorized agents, who are already engaged in removal of pythons and other exotic species, would be allowed to compete inside the park for state bounty payments. By contrast, the state-sponsored Python Challenge is self-described as a “hunt,” open to anyone paying $25 (no hunting license required) who can pass an “online training module.” The last Python Challenge in 2013 drew 1,600 people, and sponsors hope to draw many more next year.
Dated September 25, 2015, Austin’s letter responding to a PEER protest about media accounts of the event makes clear that these NPS Authorized Agents are:
- Few in number: While a 2015 NPS memo indicates that Everglades has only 14 authorized agents, Austin’s letter states that, “as of 2014, Everglades…had 36 authorized agents that will be offered the opportunity to participate.” Either may be accurate, but both suggest a small number.
- Carefully screened: Agents must undergo a “criminal background check” and have not only documented “experience in safely handling large constrictor snakes,” but also hands-on as well as other training and qualifications.
- Forbidden from killing the snakes: These agents are participating in the 2016 contest only because the state allows the option for the constrictors “to be turned in alive.”
“Everglades’ participation in the Python Challenge will have no discernible effect on snake removal inside the park. In fact, the records show that it arose from park public relations, not its scientific or wildlife staff,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act also indicate that there is no budget for increasing the number of authorized agents. “While we are relieved the park will not be thrown open to hunting, these documents provide little comfort that the park has a handle on its python problem.”
Documents depict a Park Service flummoxed by python detection rates below 1% and, per one internal briefing, “we are far out from determining that a correlation could be made between a bounty and removal rates.” As a result, it is considering approaches perhaps as exotic as pythons themselves, including:
- Funding “a Tribe of Indians from India Auruelas [sic, apparently referring to the Arruelas of Brazil] to come teach detection methods in the United States [for between] $30,000 $40,000”; and
- A snake-only poison “Toxicant project toxicants that only affect pythons not sure of its effectiveness and is a very expensive project.”
The documents do reflect a consensus that much more scientific research was needed before the Park Service could get a grip on its growing python problem, but no such investment appears forthcoming.
“The National Park Service has not put its money where its mouth is when it comes to making python removal a priority,” added Ruch, noting that it spends far more on studies of jet skis and other subjects that it spends on python removal—an amount pegged at $1.5 million “over the last decade” in an agency factsheet. “Diversion of time and resources to stunts may even make Everglades’ python situation worse.”