E&E Daily: Subcommittee wrangles bills on 'escape artist' snakes, polar bears, Asian carp
Daniel Bush, E&E reporter

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 26, 2013 -

A House Natural Resources subcommittee heard testimony yesterday on four bills on a variety of wildlife species -- one to lift restrictions on polar bear trophies, another to allow the export of certain protected snakes and two to combat an invasion of Asian carp.

The Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs took up Alaska Republican Don Young's H.R. 1818, which would allow hunters to import Canadian polar bear trophies that were taken before the bear was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. Their importation was banned once the ESA listing took effect.

At issue are about 40 American hunters whose polar bear trophies are now stored in Canada, said Scott Zody, a wildlife expert at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The bill on snake exports would have a much broader impact.

The "Expedited Departure of Certain Snake Species Act," or H.R. 2158, would remove a ban on the export of four non-native constrictor snake species that are listed as "injurious" by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Such species cannot be exported under the Lacey Act, which regulates wildlife trade.

Fish and Wildlife Deputy Director Stephen Guertin testified that the four snake species in question are "escape artists" that can easily slither out of shipping containers and into native habitats.

Invasive snakes feast on lizards, birds and other native species, contributing to wildlife decline in places like the Everglades. A 2008 U.S. Geological Survey study found that invasive snake species are on pace to spread across the southern United States.

Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-La.), the bill's author, said the federal snake ban places unnecessary restrictions on the $2 billion snake-trading industry. He also claimed snakes don't pose a serious travel threat, the 2006 action thriller "Snakes on a Plane" notwithstanding.

"It might be helpful if Hollywood produces fewer movies in which serpents get loose on planes," Fleming noted.

Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), the subcommittee's acting ranking member, opposed the measure. But she threw her weight behind two bipartisan bills aimed at stopping the spread of the invasive Asian carp in the upper Midwest.

Asian carp consume enormous quantities of aquatic plants and can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 100 pounds. Prior efforts to contain the species have focused on the Great Lakes, where the Obama administration recently announced plans to bolster its existing carp retention program (Greenwire, July 24).

Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum's H.R. 358 would create a multiagency task force to reduce Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio river basins. The effort would be spearheaded by the Fish and Wildlife Service and would include the National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers.

"If we truly want to stop the spread of Asian carp while we still can, we need federal agencies to work together," McCollum said.

A companion bill by Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, the "Upper Mississippi Conservation and River Protection Act of 2013" (H.R. 709) would authorize the Army to close the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam to prevent carp from spreading into northern Minnesota waterways.

"I'm not sure that we fully agree with the bill, but we agree with the concept," Fleming said in an interview. "It's a big problem, [but] we need to be sure that we don't do things that are going to hurt commerce."

The subcommittee also heard testimony on H.R. 2463, by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), which would expand public target ranges -- in some cases on land managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

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