Maine won’t get control anytime soon of rat snakes, bearded dragons, African knife fish, Alligator lizards, Spiny-tailed monitors, Golden poison frog, Gargoyle geckos – or lots of other exotic animals that you can currently possess without permits.
And the confusing laws and rules governing the critters you do need permits to possess won’t get any legislative attention either, nor will the agency’s high costs of administering this program.
While management of exotic animals in Maine is shared by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, most of the job rests with DIF&W which receives no public funding for it, so sportsmen are paying all the bills. And now, they will continue to do so.
The permits are priced at just $23, which doesn’t come close to covering DIF&W’s costs. For example, the agency is supposed to examine the cages of the animals before permits are issued, and annually ever after. And the rules governing cages covers 14 pages!
Wardens are called out to check on exotic animals that are here in Maine without permits, and they have no training that would help them identify the animals or confiscate them if necessary. Many are dangerous. Other than firearms, they’ve got no equipment to deal with these animals.
Several DIF&W staff members spend a great deal of their time dealing with exotic animal issues and problems. That’s why I had high hopes that the agency and legislature would come to grips with this problem and fix it.
Recognizing these problems, last year the legislature ordered up a task force to “consider the effect of the importation and possession of wildlife and the issues of possession and exhibition of wildlife in the State.”
Among the tasks assigned to this group are: developing recommendations for a list of restricted, unrestricted, and banned species; amendments to current permit structures and fees; and the establishment of appropriate penalties for noncompliance with requirements. Findings and recommendations were due back to the legislature by January 14, 2014.
Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine told me last week that there would be no report and recommendations for the legislature this session, because the issues are complex and the task force needs more time to work on them.
Andrea is certainly correct about the complexity. I attended the first meeting of the exotic animal task force last October and wrote about it in my weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. You can read that here. You may find some of the stories amusing, like the one about the Auburn fire department that mustered out in July for an apartment house fire, encountering more than 30 large Ball Python snakes crawling around on the floor.
But the issues and concerns are serious and complicated. At the October 1 task force meeting, Warden Lieutenant Chris Cloutier reported that two children were killed recently by a Boa Constrictor in Canada, a snake that requires no permit in Maine.
Jim Connolly, DIF&W’s top professional in charge of both the Fisheries and the Wildlife Divisions, asked the best question at the first task force meeting: “What’s a reasonable process including informing people about health issues with each species?”
I still remember another good question Connolly asked at 2012 meeting: “Should the department be considering any request from anywhere in the world just because somebody wants to have something?”
Alas, neither those nor any other questions will be answered this session. But I will make one suggestion.
Let’s take this in steps, rather than try to deliver the entire solution at one time. Perhaps this session the permit fee for exotic animals could be increased, so sportsmen don’t have to pay for this work. Maybe DIF&W could focus first on a list of animals that ought to be prohibited.
I’d put rat snakes, bearded dragons, African knife fish, Alligator lizards, Spiny-tailed monitors, Golden poison frog, Gargoyle geckos on that list. Easy decision!