USGS Constrictor report – ineptitude or unethical practices?


Newsletter from the United States Association of Reptile Keepers: [added emphasis mine]

The Wildlife Research Center of the US Department of Agriculture has recently released a peer reviewed scientific paper in Biological Invasions that casts serious doubt on wild claims made by the US Geological Survey that Burmese pythons are poised to spread out of South Florida. –Avery, M., Engeman, R., Keacher, K., Humphrey, J., Bruce, W., Mathies, T., & Mauldin, R. (2010). Cold weather and the potential range of invasive Burmese pythons, Biological Invasions, DOI: 10.1007/s10530-010-9761-4

In an in-house “Open Report” produced by the USGS (Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Nine Large Species of Pythons, Anacondas, and the Boa Constrictor) authors Gordon Rodda and Robert Reed claim that the risk is high that Burmese pythons will quickly spread across the southern third of the United States; as far north as the Chesapeake Bay, Ohio Valley and San Francisco Bay.

A panel of independent scientists has criticized the report as, “not a bona-fide ‘scientific’ paper that has gone through external peer review”. Scientists further characterized the report as “not suitable as the basis for legislative or regulatory policies, as its content is not based on best science practices”.

USARK has filed a 36 page Request for Correction under the Information Quality Act demanding a response to 16 serious errors, inaccuracies and mischaracterizations within the report. The Constrictor Report is the sole justification for two federal bills and regulatory rule change that would add Burmese pythons and 8 other constrictors to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act.

Now in a paper entitled, Cold weather and the potential range of invasive Burmese pythons, published in a refereed scientific journal called Biological Invasions, scientists question the rash conclusions of Rodda & Reed. 7 of 9 Burmese pythons captured from Everglades National Park and held in outdoor enclosures with heated refugia died in the cold last winter at the USDA facility in Gainesville, FL. One of the authors of the new paper, Michael Avery says, "Our empirical observations cast doubt that Burmese pythons can become established and persist beyond the southern portion of the Florida peninsula."

Currently Burmese pythons are thought to be established in an area restricted to 3 counties of south Florida. Estimates on the die off after the cold winter range from 50%- 90%. Anecdotally no pythons have been found since mid March. This new peer reviewed paper is just one more independent piece of evidence debunking the extremely poor work fielded by USGS on the python invasion question. It begs question of ineptitude or unethical practices on the part of USGS producing questionable science with speculative conclusions on the taxpayer dime with little supporting data.

Click here to read press release in Conservation Maven.

[Tim’s note] I find it very disturbing that our governmental agencies adopt such a slipshod and inaccurate assessment of the situation and then proceed to try to make laws based on these assumptions.  The laws they are talking about making will disrupt the livelihoods of many breeders, pet stores, and pet supply industries.  This is not something that should be done with such a cavalier attitude.

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