Federal Legislation Threatens Pets, Zoos & Aquariums, & Biomedical Research - Feb 6, 2022

Reposted from the National Animal Interest Alliance website at https://www.naiaonline.org/articles/article/federal-legislation-threatens-pets-zoos-and-aquariums-and-biomedical-research#sthash.IwJ212AC.dpbs.

Article by Art Parola

A last-minute amendment to the COMPETES Act, H.R. 4521, was slipped in, presumably to avoid attention and pushback from the millions of Americans who will be affected, and to bypass congressional hearings. The language creates a major change to the provisions of the Lacey Act that regulate species deemed by US Fish & Wildlife Service to be injurious. While promoted under the guise of protecting the country from invasive species, the true goal of the legislative change is to ban as much of the wildlife trade as possible. Many of the organizations pushing this change oppose keeping animals in zoos, public aquariums, research facilities, and sometimes even as pets. While these organizations do not have the public support to implement their agenda outright, they have been effective in hijacking otherwise legitimate initiatives to achieve their ideological goals quietly, piece by piece.

Currently, the Lacey Act allows US Fish & Wildlife Service to promulgate rules that list species that could be injurious “to human beings, to the interests of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, or to wildlife or the wildlife resources of the United States.” Every state in the US also has legal and regulatory mechanisms for banning species that could cause harm to native species and habitats. The current federal Lacey Act list, and most state lists, are often referred to as “Black Lists.” Any species on the list is prohibited, while any species not on the list is allowed to be imported into the respective jurisdiction, sometimes with stipulations such as permit or health certificate requirements. This method of regulation is often regarded as best regulatory practice because it allows jurisdictions to prevent unwanted environmental and health threats that are relevant to their region without being overly burdensome to organizations, businesses, and individuals.

The language in the COMPETES Act would change the Lacey Act list to what is often referred to as a “White List.” If the bill passes, only species that go through an administrative rulemaking process and are found not to be a risk or an injurious species would be allowed to be imported into the United States. Any species not listed would be presumed to be injurious and would be banned from import. All species would be in essence regarded as guilty until proven innocent.

There are multiple problems with taking this regulatory approach.

First, it is impossible to prove a negative. Meeting the burden of proof to show a species would not be injurious is onerous and will require significant time and financial resources. Navigating the petition and listing process will be next to impossible for the average person, not to mention the problems in overcoming any subsequent legal challenges to listings.

The Lacey Act is a federal law, meaning if a species could be injurious anywhere in the United States including its territories and possessions, it could be considered injurious. Due to the vast differences in climate and habitats, effectively regulating potentially invasive species in Ohio or Minnesota requires evaluating drastically different criteria than in Florida or Hawaii or Puerto Rico. However, the Lacey Act is inflexible and leaves no room for more localized regulations. If a species could be a threat in south Florida, it is deemed to be a threat in Minnesota as well. Therefore, rules to prevent invasive species are most effective when implemented at the state level and not as a one size fits all approach for the entirety of the country.

“White Lists” also create enforcement problems. With a “Black List,” law enforcement primarily needs to be able to identify protected and banned species. Even in these cases, law enforcement can have difficulty and federal regulations ban imports of some species solely based on similarity of appearance to another protected or banned species. The only purpose of these bans are regulatory agencies perceive it would otherwise be difficult for law enforcement personnel to implement the law. This can lead to extremes. For example, Pennsylvania bans all crayfish species. This law is primarily an attempt to prevent invasions of rusty crayfish and a few other cold-water species that legitimately threaten native ecosystems. However, this also means the orange dwarf Mexican crayfish, a popular tropical aquarium species, is banned. An ecological risk screening by US Fish & Wildlife Service gives the species a climate match score of 0 (the lowest score possible and a key indicator that species presents no invasion risk) for the entire state of Pennsylvania. There is also little to no risk of confusing an orange dwarf Mexican crayfish with species that would actually harm the state’s aquatic ecology. Despite no reasonable purpose for banning the species in Pennsylvania, keeping orange Mexican dwarf crayfish is a crime at the state level, and could even become a federal felony if prosecuted under criminal provisions of federal law pertaining to state, tribal, and foreign wildlife violations.

While “Black Lists” create some regulatory difficulties such as this, these issues are exponentially aggravated when implementing a white list, as practical enforcement of a white list will require law enforcement officials to reliably identify every species, whether listed or not. This is impossible, as millions of species exist on planet earth. Therefore, it is likely species that present effectively no risk of actually being injurious would be excluded from the “White List” due to perceived burden to law enforcement, whether reasonable or not. Even worse, these regulations would apply across the entire US and not be confined to any single state.

Not only do species identification issues lead to overarching bans on otherwise non-injurious species, but problems can arise even when species are completely legal. Customs officials and wildlife inspection agents at ports of entry are tasked with clearing shipments of wildlife imported from abroad. Often, getting the shipments cleared and to their final destination as quickly as possible is paramount for the health and welfare of the animals. Misidentifications and mistakes by inspectors can lead to holding and seizure of perfectly legal shipments, resulting in significant stress on the animals being transported. This already can be an issue within the currently regulatory framework. But moving from a current Lacey Act “Black List” to a “White List” would result in even more instances of mistakenly held and seized shipments due to the increased complexity for custom officials and inspection agents. This will significantly increase cost of enforcement and reduce animal welfare by potentially prolonging transit times.

The proposed legislation would not only significantly impact importing animals into the United States, but also limit transportation of animals between states. Due to a 2017 D.C. Court of Appeals ruling, species listed as injurious under the Lacey Act can be moved across state lines in accordance with state laws (though many states already ban relevant Lacey Act “Black Listed” species that pose a threat to their native ecology considering their state’s respective climate and habitats).

The COMPETES Act would override the court ruling and outlaw interstate transport of all species considered injurious under the Lacey Act. Since every species not on the “White List” would be considered injurious, the proposed Lacey Act white list would not only prevent imports of most species into the US from abroad, but also ban movement between states. While animals possessed before the implementation of the white list would still likely be allowed to be kept under state law, unless the species is lucky enough to make it onto the proposed Lacey Act “White List,” transporting across state lines for any reason, whether because of a move, selling or gifting animals, or even taking an animal temporarily to another state for medical care (a common occurrence for fish, reptile, amphibian, and bird keepers, since finding a veterinarian specializing in treating non-mammals can sometimes be difficult) could result in federal prosecution.

Prosecution under the Lacey Act can be severe and heavy handed. Each violation can be prosecuted as a federal felony with a maximum punishment of $20,000 and/or five years imprisonment. Additional civil penalties could also be levied.

Changes proposed in the COMPETES Act will affect bird keepers, reptile and amphibian enthusiasts, and any other organization, business, or person who works with non-native wildlife. The definition of “wildlife” covers almost every animal, no matter how many generations it may be removed from its wild counterparts, with very few exceptions aside from dogs and cats. The consequences for reptile and amphibian keepers, bird owners, aquarists, and other pet owners if the COMPETES Act passes will be severe. This means every reptile, amphibian, arachnid, bird, fish, coral, and invertebrate will be subject to the new restrictions, whether captive bred, ranched, farmed, aquacultured, maricultured, or collected from a wild source or fishery. With more than 10,000 species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, fish, corals, and invertebrates kept by hobbyists and in trade, it is likely only a small fraction of species would initially be able to overcome the onerous listing process on the “White List.” The process of petitioning to add species to the “White List” will be costly and time consuming, and likely be challenged in court by well-funded animal rights organization, resulting in long and costly delays, if successful at all. Most species will likely be considered injurious without any reason other than an unsurmountable burden of proving otherwise. For species that do manage to make it onto the “White List,” prices will likely rise significantly. Undescribed and newly discovered species will almost certainly cease to exist in the American hobby and trade. Even domestic captive breeding, aquaculture, and fisheries will be severely curtailed as companies and individuals will, for the most part, be limited solely to the “White Listed” species. For all intents and purposes, this legislation will dramatically change the hobby and pet trade as we know it, resulting in significantly reduced availability of species, diminished interest in pet keeping, severe retraction in the size of the industry resulting in substantial job losses, both in the US and abroad, and an extreme reduction in the scientific, economic, cultural, educational, and conservation benefits of the bird, reptile, amphibian, and aquarium hobbies and trade.

Let your senator know your views on the last-minute amendment to the COMPETES Act, H.R. 4521. – end article

Take action at ALERT: America COMPETES Act of 2022 Lacey Act Amendments | USARK - United States Association of Reptile Keepers.



It is possible that they ban boas right? I can’t even believe this.

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This is unjust. I find it hard to believe this, yet it is indeed real. It will become catastrophically real if we just let it move on.

If boas have the smallest chance of colonizing in southern Florida or Puerto Rico, they apparently can colonize in Alaska.

I do have a question though, would we be permitted to ship simply within our own state if the bill passes (heaven forbid) ? Say I wanted to ship a lizard from Los Angeles to San Diego? Or simply sell them locally by pickup?

Also, our reptiles that we currently own wouldn’t be confiscated or anything, correct? This would truly be devastating even to the average bird or fish keeper. There are A LOT of people that casually keep these types of animals.

Good question. Wondered the same. Sales would take a hit. You won’t see Justin kobylka vending at Tinley anymore. But could you still use MorphMarket for instate sales or local pick up only? Guess Craigslist would make a comeback too.

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Yep, would they simply cut-off the entire trade, or just interstate shipping? The reason I ask is that I could most likely make-do with selling just within my state. (Once again, definitely still trying to stop this bill from passing) But not if I couldn’t ship throughout my state. I am currently planning on shipping an order from Salt Lake City, UT to Moab, UT but want to know if this would be doable.

Seeing that there’s a chance they can breed in southern Florida, likely yes. But, it wouldn’t ban them (yet), it would only ban transportation in/out of your state. Which, unfortunately, would ruin all of your breeding plans.

You can still ship within the state but not across state lines. They won’t confiscate them but I would bet
(if this passes) that all of the animals not on the whitelist are “injurious wildlife”. So, likely it will escalate and the rights will be diminished further.

It still cuts off most of the trade since most people won’t want to keep reptiles anymore.

I’m planning to breed day geckos. I love them and I want to encourage captive breeding. But, with this bill I would have great difficulty finding them, especially captive bred. Once I bred them it would be extremely difficult to sell them and most of the ones for sale in most states would be wild caught (most importers won’t follow this law and will ship across the country). So instead of preserving wild populations the bill only encourages importation and all of the ones for sale will be wild caught (and the buyers won’t know that they’re illegally transported). And the whole reason for this is because they are invasive in Hawaii and could breed in S. Florida


I just contacted my two senators by following the instructions given by USARK, and it was very easy. I hope others will take action too.


I also sent my email today too (I wrote quite a bit so it took a little while).

If our hobby that we all love is at risk, why wouldn’t we spend 10 minutes to increase the chances that we get to enjoy it for many more years to come?


This legislation is a blank check that they can use to strip us of our rights and turn good keepers into criminals. Please, if you haven’t already, contact your senators. As some have already stated, USARK makes it very easy to do this, but remember, be professional.


I will be contacting my senators and I will be encouraging all my friends, family, and customers to do the same.


Contacting each of my senators took no time at all using the resources provided by USARK.

Thankful for the MorphMarket team using their platform to shine a bright light on this issue and providing easy access to the tools to combat this overreach too!


This is pretty informative if you’ve got the time to watch or listen.


I wonder if that doctor that was feuding with Kevin from NERD had anything to do with this. Did anybody see the clip about him going to a man’s house, killing his entire collection, then removing each one as if it were trash? That made me so angry. Just terrible. I wouldn’t put it past that guy.

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@bkendrick37 I am super interested. I have not heard of this. Do you mind sending a link to this? I would like to educate myself.


You can find a lot of petitions for this, I added some links at the bottom of this post.
My thoughts were that we can contact large organizations that would be affected. I’m going to try to reach out to local research facilities and large pet chains (pet supplies plus, petco, petsmart, etc). I think reaching out to large pet stores might just be the best thing to do. They will be losing millions of dollars if this passes and it reduces a critical part of their business. So they will be doing a lot to stop this, more than any of us can do. I recommend calling and emailing all of them so we can get as many people as possible to help.


These are in order from most to least votes. More can be found but they take a lot more digging.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7


An issue could become that most major shipping companies use hubs outside of the state, for example, i had a ball python shipped from NYC to Rochester (both in NY state) but it went through Kentucky. So would that action be banned now since the animal had to cross state lines although the final destination was still within the state?? Crazy to think this could be the future… :disappointed_relieved:


That’s a very good point. You’re right, I highly doubt it would be enforced but it’s still terrible to think about. No shipping company is going to make that major of accommodations for such a small customer base.

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Reading the language of the bill here, almost all snakes would be on the no ship list. The bill says states and territories. All snakes are banned in Hawaii and almost all the most popular boas and pythons are or could be invasive to U.S. tropical island territories. So yes, your boas, and mine, and all the ball pythons, retics, bloods would be on the federal no ship list. Almost all the more popular lizard and gecko species too, for that matter.

The problem with this bill, like so many federal laws, is that the one size fits all approach, while appropriate for certain functions and obviously an integral part of any federal law, does not work well here. This is too broad a brush with which to paint.

If you are talking about a function which must be equally applied across all of the nation, like honoring the value of the currency from location to location in the whole country, then yes broad application is both sensible and necessary. However, declaring that some species of plant or animal is invasive for one small part of the country and thus is banned everywhere is not only ludicrously onerous for enforcement, it demonstrates ignorance of the scientific knowledge base and a supreme disregard for the powers of regulation and enforcement at the state level.

The U.S. is a large country with a varied terrain and climate as well as culture, agricultural, industrial and social lifestyles, our founders were wise enough to recognize the importance of preserving a layer of decision making at the more local level. One could make the argument that they had to do so in order to “get everyone on board”, that does not mean they did not or could not recognize the value of allowing lower, more local levels of government, with a better understanding of their constituents’ needs, to function.

Regardless of one’s political leanings, it just makes sense that in certain cases, and I would argue that this is one of them, decisions of regulation and enforcement of certain activities should be left at the state level. This is a small piece of a large bill, slipped in quietly at the last minute, which will potentially negatively and onerously impact millions of citizens, tens if not hundreds of thousands of businesses, law enforcement, personal and business income and tax revenues, educational and scientific researchers, the list goes on. Most of what this legislation is meant to do is already being handled, adequately if not perfectly at the lower levels, we don’t need a larger hand on this wheel.


Since riding a four wheeler across certain protected wetlands along the gulf coast is injurious and harmful to the wildlife, ecology and habitat of those areas, clearly all four wheelers should be placed on a restricted list legally banning production, importation, ownership and transport across all state lines and in all states, territories and possessions of the continental and broader U.S. In addition, any vehicle which could be potentially used in a recreational manner in those small wet land areas in the future would be automatically added to the banned list until and unless they were shown to be unusable in this fashion. Additional listing of potentially harmful and injurious vehicles, such as all two wheeled powered vehicles similar or identical to “dirt bikes” may also be made as other at risk locations are identified, with no oversight or discussion or announcement. In fact, all powered vehicles of any type will be automatically added to the banned list, until and unless they can be proven to be non harmful, by some as yet to be determined, but likely difficult and expensive process.

Now the law sounds stupid, right?

What moron voted for this at all?

Why would anyone ever vote them back into office?

end rant mode go to the happy place now
Shaking my head in despair for the future…

Meanwhile, there is a perfectly serviceable sign, put up by the state of Florida, that says “Protected wetlands, no fourwheelers, violators will be fined.”

After this, Imma gonna go find a block of tofu to beat my head on, try to smack the stupid out…