There is a whiff of desperation about the state’s latest plan to eradicate the Burmese pythons proliferating in and around Everglades National Park. It’s called The Python Challenge.
That’s right, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is sponsoring a contest in January for python hunters. The trapper of the most snakes wins $1,500, while the longest python will earn its bagger $1,000.
What this contest implies is that state wildlife managers are running out of options when it comes to eradicating pythons, a huge menace to Everglades natives — the bobcats, foxes and other mammals that have always lived there and now face a serious threat to their survival.
Really, though, you can’t blame state officials for trying, since they’re getting absolutely no help from Congress.
Last week the U.S. House’s Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs noisily rejected a bill that would impose a nationwide ban on the import and interstate sales of nine species of pythons, anacondas and boa constrictors. The ban was proposed by Republican Rep. Tom Rooney of Tequesta.
And who led the charge to kill it? Another Florida GOP congressman, no less. Rep. Steve Southerland, a Panama City lawmaker, called the bill a job-killer that would destroy the exotic snake industry.
According to Mr. Southerland, this would be tantamount to declaring “open season” on enterprise and freedom.
Mr. Southerland apparently lives too far north to feel threatened by proliferating pythons and the 140-odd other invasive species thriving in Florida’s hospitable climate.
We have Nile monitors on the West Coast, iguanas everywhere and now a Nile crocodile running round Homestead, just to mention a few exotics that mostly began life here as pets.
But the pythons are the worst. They are gobbling up mammals, birds and birds’ eggs at an alarming pace in the Glades.
And they are moving northward. Given the world’s warming climate, they are likely to keep migrating toward the Panhandle and beyond.
They have to be brought under control and completely obliterated in Florida.
But as long as pet owners can buy the slithery creatures, only to tire of them and release them in the wild, the python will continue to reproduce here. Only Congress has the power to stem this tide with a national ban.
And obviously, lawmakers feel no sense of urgency about the problem, sad to say.
Meantime, Florida and national park officials soldier on with trapping efforts, programs that encourage exotic pet owners to surrender them and public-awareness campaigns.
And now a snake-catching contest.
One is open to 70 or so licensed python hunters and another to anyone who pays $25 to register, take a 30-minute online identification course and sign a liability waiver.
But inviting amateur hunters to tackle pythons seems risky, even with those waivers. Desperation aside, is this really such a good idea?