Tuesday, May 12, 2009

H.R. 669 Hearing Update - from FishChannel.com newsletter

EDITOR'S NOTE (From FishChannel.com Editor)

Well, HR669, the now-infamous bill that would pretty much end the pet hobby as we know it, appears to be entering possible limbo-land as of the time we're sending this newsletter. (Read all about it here.) Some believe it has pretty much been killed. Others, and I would put myself in this category, are cautiously optimistic and waiting to see what happens next. Even if this bill is defeated, expect the animal rights and environmentalist groups who are traditionally responsible for bills of this sort to cull another one together sooner rather than later.

By all accounts pet owners came together in astounding numbers to battle this flawed bill that was based on questionable science. Those who would have been most affected by it are hobbyists who keep reptiles, tropical fish and birds. The majority of the popular pet species of these types of animals are not native to the United States , and the bill would have made it illegal to keep everything from bettas to bearded dragons to budgies. Advocates of the bill would say that species that are judged “safe” to keep (e.g., don't stand to establish wild populations should they escape) would be put on a list of approved species, but to get them on that list would be far from a cakewalk, requiring applications and fees, as well as USFWS personnel time and money that are reportedly nonexistent. Further studies could also be requested by USFWS before adding a species to the approved list, stalling the process even longer. It could take years, if ever, to get popular pets such as those mentioned above added to the list, and in the meantime they would be illegal.

Hopefully this bill is dead. If so, kudos to everyone who flooded the subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife with tens of thousands of letters and phone calls. Also kudos to PIJAC and USARK for keeping everyone informed. Everybody's efforts were not just impressive, but also vital.

Russ Case
FishChannel.com Editor

(reprinted below)
H.R. 669 Hearing Update
What's the status of H.R. 669 after the hearing?
By Benjamin Weiner
On Thursday, April 23, 2009, the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife met to deliberate, investigate and revise H.R. 669, the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, and decide if it should go to general debate and move forward in the legislative process. The hearing record is being held open for 10 days for responses and to decide whether to proceed.
Chief Executive Officer and General Counsel for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) Marshall Meyers testified before the Congressional Subcommittee regarding H.R. 669 as a representative of pet owners and the pet industry.
In written testimony submitted to the Subcommittee Meyers stated, "We support the development of a strategic, risk-based process to prevent the introduction of invasive species (harmful nonnative species) into the United States." However, the current draft of H.R. 669 "fails to be strategic in that it does not adequately take socio-economic issues and risk management options into account," and would "require funds and staffing not currently
available, nor likely to be available, to the US Fish and Wildlife Service."
Meyers said that they are willing to work with the authors of the bill to craft more realistic legislation that serves the public and affected industries alike.
Congresswoman and Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo of Guam (who authored this bill) said, "We recognize the bill is by no means perfect and that changes will be needed to address various concerns before any legislation moves forward."
"As it stands, PIJAC still has issues with points of this bill's impracticality or lack of clarity," Meyers said.
Andrew Wyatt President of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) said that the hearing was a "smashing success."
"Two weeks leading up to the hearing, USARK mounted a grassroots campaign of letter writing and phone calls," he said. "We swamped Capitol Hill with almost 50,000 letters that were delivered to Subcommittee members."
Wyatt added that on top of that were thousands upon thousands of phone calls, e-mail and letters directly to Subcommittee members.
During the hearing, Congressman and Subcommittee member Henry E. Brown of South Carolina said, "Like members of this Subcommittee, during the past few weeks I have received thousands of calls, e-mails and letters written by constituents in strong opposition of this bill."
Later, Wyatt quoted Harry Burroughs of the Subcommittee staff as saying, "I haven't seen a letter writing campaign like this in 30 years! You should be proud of yourselves."
Subcommittee member Eni F.H. Faleomavaega of American Samoa, a co-sponsor of the bill, congratulated Meyers, PIJAC and the pet industry for the tremendous grassroots response that has been generated, noting that it is important to have input from constituents on these issues.
Wyatt added that Faleomavaega said that the letters and phone calls hit them like a "buzz saw."
"We're so proud of all the people out there that did what they were supposed to do and sent letters and e-mails and phone calls," he said.
Russ Case, Editor of Aquarium Fish International and FishChannel.com, expressed relief at the outcome. "I'm happy that the bill may be in trouble in its current form, but as we all know, the groups who are against the keeping of exotic pets will return with another. For now I'm cautiously optimistic, but I'll be waiting to see what they cook up next."
Both PIJAC and USARK expressed that no current action is required by the public and that more updates are to come.
PIJAC Website - http://www.pijac.org/
USARK Website - http://www.fishchannel.com/fish-news/2009/04/23/www.usark.org

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