A legal fight has heated up over the giant snakes that have colonized the Everglades, with the U.S. government filing a fierce defense of its ban on the import of Burmese pythons and three other snakes.
Attorneys for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dismissed claims by the United States Association of Reptile Keepers that sales of snakes are used to fund research and conservation, that members engage in breeding of species at risk of extinction, and that they develop techniques to eradicate them from areas in which they don't belong.
The government said the reptile group never explained why the import and state-to-state trade of Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons and yellow anacondas is necessary for these activities to continue.
The reptile group argued the government used shaky scientific data that exaggerated the possible spread north of the species and understated the likely economic harm to reptile dealers, breeders and others in the business.
The group said the ban, announced in 2012, would shrink the market because potential buyers won't be able to take the snakes across state lines and that dealers will be forced to euthanize them. The group said the ban could cost its members up to $1.2 billion over the next 10 years.
"Not only are these interests entirely economic, they are also totally unrelated to the environment: they involve the breeding and selling of captive snakes," the lawyers for the government wrote.
The announcement came in an event at Everglades National Park, which is struggling with a breeding population of Burmese pythons blamed for killing many of the park's mammals. A population of African rock pythons is suspected of living along Tamiami Trail, east of the park.