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  1. #1
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    PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    Thank You to all the scientists that stood up for truth, principle and fairness. They took time from their busy schedules on very short notice to go on record because it was the right thing to do. The Reptile Nation wants to give an extra special thanks to Dr. Elliott Jacobson and Dr. Dale DeNardo. Without these dedicated professionals this would not have been possible.

    PRESS RELEASE November 24, 2009, 5 AM EST

    Scientists Characterize Justification for Congressional Python Ban as “Unscientific”

    November 24, 2009, Wilmington, NC- In a letter to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary an independent group of scientists today characterized a United States Geological Survey (USGS) report being touted as the justification for a ban on import and trade in pythons as “unscientific”.

    The independent group of scientists and herpetologists, including professors from the University of Florida, Arizona State, and Texas A&M among others penned members of Congress in response to comments made by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) during a November 6th hearing on H.R. 2811, a bill that could determine the fate of much of the reptile trade in the United States. During that hearing USFWS Deputy Director Dan Ashe characterized the USGS report as “peer-reviewed science”, a claim that struck a nerve within the scientific community.

    “It is a misrepresentation to call the USGS document ‘scientific’” stated the scientists. “As written, this [USGS] document is not suitable as the basis for legislative or regulatory policies, as its content is not based on best science practices, it has not undergone external peer-review, and it diverts attention away from the primary concern. We encourage the USFWS and USGS to submit this document to an independent body for proper and legitimate peer review. Additionally, we encourage the Committee to review this document, not as an authoritative scientific publication, but rather as a report currently drafted to support a predetermined policy”.

    H.R. 2811, Introduced by U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek (D-FL), who recently announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, could add all pythons, and even boas, to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act; a designation reserved for only the most dangerous alien invaders to our natural ecosystem. Such a move would prevent all import, export, and interstate transport of pythons in the U.S. The scientific justification for such a move hinges on a recently published report of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) entitled ‘Risk Assessment of Nine Large Constricting Snakes’, which attempts to paints a picture of large constrictor snakes as an immediate threat to eco-systems over much of the U.S.

    Source: United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK)

    Contact: Andrew Wyatt

    Letter To Congress:

    24 November 2009

    U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary
    The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism & Homeland Security
    2138 Rayburn House Office Building
    Washington, DC 20515

    Dear Chairman Bobby Scott and Ranking Member Louie Gohmert:

    We write in regard to the recent Congressional hearing on HR 2811. As scientists who have worked with reptiles including those cited in HR2811, we express our reservations regarding the document recently released by USGS as an “Open-Report”, titled Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Nine Large Species of Pythons, Anacondas, and the Boa Constrictor.

    Simply put, this report is not a bona-fide “scientific” paper that has gone through external peer review. Part of this report is fact-driven, described by the authors as “traditional library scholarship.” By the authors’ admissions, there are surprisingly little data available regarding the natural history of these species. In their attempt to compile as much information as possible, the authors draw from a wide variety of references, ranging from articles published in peer-reviewed professional journals to far less authoritative hobbyist sources, including popular magazines, the internet, pet industry publications, and even various media sources. While such an approach is inclusive, it tends to include information that is unsubstantiated and, in some cases, contradicts sound existing data.

    As scientists whose careers are focused around publishing in peer-reviewed journals and providing expert reviews of papers submitted to these journals, we feel it is a misrepresentation to call the USGS document “scientific”. In fact, much of this report is based on an unproven risk assessment model that produces results that contradict the findings presented in a recently published scientific paper that used a more complex and superior model (see: Pyron R.A., F.T. Burbrink, and T.J. Guiher. 2008. Claims of Potential Expansion throughout the U.S. by Invasive Python Species Are Contradicted by Ecological Niche Models, PLoS One 3: e2931. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002931). Unfortunately, the authors of the USGS document limit their reference to this scientific work to an unsubstantiated criticism. To the contrary, this alternate model is validated by its relatively accurate prediction of the natural distribution of the species in question (something the USGS model does not even attempt). Furthermore, despite its conclusion of a limited potential distribution of Burmese pythons in the United States, the model presented by Pyron et al. accurately predicts the presence of Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

    The USGS model likely provides a gross overestimate of potential habitat for these snake species. People throughout the United States keep pythons as pets, yet the only known breeding populations in the United States are in the Everglades. Such a wide distribution of potential sources of invasion, but only a localized invasive event, suggests that factors beyond those used in the USGS model are critical to limiting the suitability of habitat for pythons. The authors even state that climate is only one factor of several that affect the distribution of an animal, yet they develop a model that only uses overly simplistic climatic data (e.g., the climatic data did not take seasonality into consideration).

    We are further concerned by the pervasive bias throughout this report. There is an obvious effort to emphasize the size, fecundity and dangers posed by each species; no chance is missed to speculate on negative scenarios. The report appears designed to promote the tenuous concept that invasive giant snakes are a national threat. However, throughout the report there is a preponderance of grammatical qualifiers that serve to weaken many, if not most, statements that are made.

    We fully recognize the serious concerns associated with the presence of persistent python populations in southern Florida. As top predators, these animals can and will have a dramatic impact on the community of wildlife that lives in the Everglades. Inaccurately extending this threat to a much large geographic area is not only inappropriate, but likely takes needed focus away from the real problem in the Everglades.

    In conclusion, as written, this document is not suitable as the basis for legislative or regulatory policies, as its content is not based on best science practices, it has not gone through external peer-review, and it diverts attention away from the primary concern. We encourage the USFWS and USGS to submit this document to an independent body for proper and legitimate peer review. Additionally, we encourage the Committee to review this document, not as an authoritative scientific publication, but rather as a report currently drafted to support a predetermined policy.


    Elliott Jacobson, MS, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACZM
    Professor of Zoological Medicine
    University of Florida

    Dale DeNardo, DVM, PhD
    Associate Professor School of Life Sciences
    Arizona State University

    Paul M. Gibbons, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP (Avian)
    President-Elect, Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians
    Interim Regent, Reptiles & Amphibians, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
    Director, Exotic Species Specialty Service
    Animal Emergency Center and Specialty Services

    Chris Griffin, DVM, Dipl. ABVP (Avian)
    President, Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians
    Owner and Medical Director
    Griffin Avian and Exotic Veterinary Hospital

    Brady Barr, PhD
    Resident Herpetologist
    National Geographic Society
    Endangered Species Coalition of the Council of State Governments
    Crocodilian Specialist Group

    Warren Booth, PhD
    Invasive Species Biologist
    Research Associate
    North Carolina State University
    Director of Science
    United States Association of Reptile Keepers

    Ray E. Ashton, Jr.
    Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Institute

    Robert Herrington, PhD
    Professor of Biology
    Georgia Southwestern State University

    Douglas L. Hotle
    Curator of Herpetology/Conservation/Research
    Natural Toxins Research Center
    Texas A&M University

    Francis L. Rose (Retired) , B.S., M.S. (Zoology), PhD (Zoology)
    Professor Emeritus
    Texas State University

    Edward J. Wozniak DVM, PhD
    Regional Veterinarian
    Zoonosis Control Division
    Texas Department of State Health Services
    Specialty Serpents

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  3. #2
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    Re: PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    Thank You to those scientists who are challenging this...

    "Cry, Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war..."

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  4. #3
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    Re: PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    Awesome. Now maybe the committee will listen and throw HR2811 out.
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  5. #4
    BPnet Veteran MattU's Avatar
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    Re: PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    That was very good, the good credentials on those names should make a statement

  6. #5
    BPnet Veteran Brewster320's Avatar
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    Re: PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    I think it's funny that National Geographic did a report about how pythons could take over the US basicly and here is their very own Brady Barr signing a paper saying this idea is unscientific lol!

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  8. #6
    BPnet Veteran Dianna's Avatar
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    Re: PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    Love it

  9. #7
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    Re: PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    Did anyone else catch that discovery channel documentary "Ratzilla" last week? I found it amusing that some people in the government actually considered intorducing alligators in order to wipe out a population of african pouched rat. Especially when there is already a natural predator that is more than capable of taking care of that problem.
    Sorry, maybe that was a bit off topic, I just found it interesting.

  10. #8
    BPnet Veteran ScottyBoa's Avatar
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    Re: PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    I just worry that no matter how much hard evidence goes forward, groups like HSUS will just keep throwing money at their side of the arguement until they get their way be it now or in the future. I am very happy that they put this report forward, hopefully it does change someone's mind...
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  11. #9
    Registered User Ophidian Obsessed's Avatar
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    Re: PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    This is some excellent news for us. Take away HSUS's biggest arguement and they won't hold up long, after watching the meeting it was obvious all their arguements stemmed from that report.

  12. #10
    BPnet Veteran icygirl's Avatar
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    Re: PR: Scientists Call USGS Report "Unscientific"

    I got this email, and it brightened up my whole week.

    This is the best news we've had in awhile. FINALLY, science stands up to politics! A big "kudos" to all the herpetologists, vets, and researchers who were involved in signing that letter.

    And, isn't Dr. Jacobson the same one who is studying IBD in boas?

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