S7 E6: Protecting Our Chameleon Community From New Lawsadmin
Today is a serious topic where I give my take on the current amendment proposal to the Lacey Act. This amendment has serious repercussions for reptile keeping and this is no drill. It snuck by undetected in the House and now it is on its way to the Senate. This is an example of how vigilant we need to be to protect our community. I figure it is more than worth talking about this because if this passes, our community will take a serious hit and it is this community which sustains us.
Transcript (More or Less)
Good morning Chameleon Wranglers, This is your host Bill Strand, and this week we are going to address all the noise you have been hearing about legislation making its way through the government. I am going to lay out what it actually says, what the process is, how this fits in the big picture, and what is an appropriate response from us in the chameleon community. If you listened to the latest episode of the Reptile Entrepreneur Podcast then this will be familiar as I am releasing the core information on both of my outreach channels. This is truly a community-wide issue and, yes, it is this serious.
Since we have some time here to truly dig deep I want to start with explaining the big picture. There are behemoth special interest groups all around. Humans have always liked telling others what they can and can’t do and there are a group of well funded people that have decided that keeping animals as pets, in zoos, in circuses, or as a core business is evil and must be stopped. Of course, the group is made up of people of various levels of activism from those that just want puppy mills stopped to those that would like us to all be vegetarian. And, as we all love animals, much of what drives them we can relate to. We just differ on how to go about solving the problems. The bottom line is that the animal rights groups work tirelessly to ban pet ownership. You may not know about this because you don’t have time to keep track of legislation being proposed or enacted all around the country. And the animal rights groups enjoy the advantage of having many high power lobbyists and do not have the distraction of trying to compromise. And this is why we have to take this seriously even though there are a number of points we may agree with. It is because they are not interested in compromise. All the talk of regulation is designed to destroy the animal keeping community. They are patient, clever and plan for the long game so it is easy to not be concerned about the little cuts here and there which, when added up, are deadly.
So, what is their strategy? For decades they have realized, better than most people in the reptile community, that the way to destroy the pet trade is to destroy any business structure that deals with animals. And this makes sense because a business has money and will fight. Individuals are lost in the noise. So they know they have to disrupt the business core of the community. Destroying an entire business sector outright is too ambitious for even them. So they have taken to legislating how business is allowed to be conducted. Shipping, the ability to get your goods from manufacturer to customer is the lifeline of business. Even with ample inventory and willing customers, if there is no way to get goods from point A to point B the business will die. So the attacks are often against the ability to transport animals. Over two decades ago I remember working on a legal fight against the Humane Society and they wanted to pass legislation that required any shipping of reptile to be in a shipping container that replicated the natural movement range of the animal. So, if a chameleon made a mango tree its home we would have to ship a mango tree. You can see how ridiculous this is and nowhere near necessary. But the humane society knew that it would destroy commerce and that they could weave a compelling story to the politicians who have no context. I mean, doesn’t it sound reasonable to only ship an animal in luxury and comfort? If that passed, I wonder what we could have done with that law and passenger airlines. Would each person have to fly in a house size room? So this is the template they use. Find a way to stop the transport of animals and wrap a logical story around it. Doesn’t matter if the story is true or not or reasonable or not. They just have to make it sound good to a legislator who doesn’t have time to check it out. In this year’s version this is all being framed as a pandemic prevention solution. If Covid originally came from the animal world doesn’t it make sense to stop animals from being transported across state lines? The logic is sorely lacking. So you stop animals which have very little chance of being part of spreading a pandemic, but allow humans which have 100% chance of being carriers of a pandemic disease to cross state lines? But you can see how a quick emotional story could be created from this by a clever lobbyist promising financial support of the politician who has no concept that this will be catastrophic to livelihoods across the country. It will protect your constituents. It will stop the scourge of puppy mills. How can anyone turn down the opportunity to make voters happy like that?
And, you say, but wait a minute, those arguments are so one sided and full of holes that no one could fall for it. Well, all it takes is 1) good story telling with making us look like villains and leaving out any inconvenient truths and 2) slipping things in that politicians don’t even know about.
And these two points are important for us to keep in mind when we get involved in the process. First is that we need to present ourselves to the politicians as mature, rational, law abiding citizens that are coherent and relevant with our objections. After being painted as crazy people by the animal rights lobbyists we need to show that that was a lie. If we can show that the animals rights lobbyists are willing to lie then their integrity of how they present everything is called into question. So the most powerful thing you can do is to approach your senator with calm and respect to discuss the situation in a reasonable manner. The worst thing you can do is write threatening emails talking about how you’ve got guns in the house and aren’t afraid to use them on anyone trying to take your animals. You see how that last approach just proves that we are dangerous like the lobbyists painted us? Remember that the senators don’t know anything about our community. These amendments are slipped in to a huge bill so politicians voting on the major legislation unwittingly pass the special interest legislation. In this particular case, this is an amendment being slipped in to the 3000 page COMPETES act whose purpose is to fund semiconductor research and fabrication to allow the US to not be dependent on China for critical electronic components. So, you see how this is a tangled mess? It is unrealistic to expect them to actually read the entirety what they are voting on. Yes, I know that seems like something that is broken in our political system. And you are right. And the lobbyists take advantage of this by slipping things in so they hopefully go through without anyone noticing. Like this almost did. Sure, the senator may have people looking through the document and highlighting the parts that are top priority issues for the senator to read those particular pages out of 3000 pages. But I can guarantee you that an amendment to the Lacey act, which many of them may not even have heard of, is not going to make that cut. So that is the second point. We need to approach them as if they do not know what we are talking about. And, in this case, senators not knowing that this amendment has been slipped in is one of the main strategies in hopes of getting it passed. So coming in with emails filled with fire on an issue that the politician didn’t even realize was happening and so has no context for what you are saying can hurt us greatly simply in the senator discounting anyone bringing up preserving our rights as crazy.
So, what is going on on our side. Almost all of what I am sharing regarding strategy and the situation comes from an organization called USARK. This is the reptile community’s legal watchdog that scans the proposals at all levels across the United States. They are tasked with fighting for our rights to keep reptiles and just one look at USARK.org and you will be floored by how often restrictions are being proposed. Many of them from the imagination animal rights groups, but a number of them are from the actions of stupid reptile people. If you keep cobras and one of your’s gets loose in your neighborhood you can be sure that the animal rights side will thank you for this gift as a terrorized community is locked down while fearing for the safety of their children. So, you think they want hear about the rights of someone to keep deadly snakes? You just made the USARK’s job a whole lot tougher. So we are our own worst enemy at times. Now, you may be of the mind to say that you agree with not being able to keep venomous reptiles. And you could make valid arguments, but when a gift like this is given to the animal rights groups they make sure that the legislation says “snakes” instead of “venomous snakes” or even “reptiles”. To a scared community that knows nothing about reptiles the difference between a ball python and a cobra is immaterial, but the ramifications of pushing that generalized language through is tremendous. So this is not about being reasonable or compromising. We have to fight hard and fast. And that is what USARK does.
If you haven’t heard of USARK it is important that I make an introduction. USARK is run by Phil Goss and is our legislation watchdog. He interacts with many watchdog groups across the animal community. It may seem like we are all alone and often the legislation is just towards the reptile community, but all animal communities know that the rights lobbyists are taking any opportunity to shut them all down. So we are all in this together. It was actually USARK that detected this latest amendment and alerted the other groups. USARK has been very effective in protecting our rights and becoming a huge thorn in the side of the animal rights lobbyists. Phil is doing a great job protecting our community.
So, let’s turn our attention to this particular amendment. And before I get into it, please get ready to wade through nuance. The whole strategy of something like this is to spin it one way that sounds like a slam dunk, but word it in another way so that can be enforced more broadly. So, get comfortable. It is very difficult to figure out what is going on because this is an amendment so they are specifying that individual words be inserted into the original Lacey act. This means you have to have the original Lacey act in front of you, find the sentence they are saying to change, and see what that word does. So just try to wade through this amendment and you’ll understand why your senator may have no idea what it is doing or why it is significant.
The most dangerous part of this amendment is that it changes regulations from a state level black list to a country level white list. Currently, animals are permitted to cross stateliness if they are not on the blocked list for that state. You can have ferrets in Nevada, but not California. You can have tegus in Alaska, but not Florida. You can have a Burmese python, or anything, in Texas, but don’t bring a snake, or, well, anything, to Hawaii . With a black list you can’t take any of those species across state lines into the state that has black listed them. And this makes sense because the chances of a tegu or iguana escaping and setting up a feral colony in Alaska are zero. So don’t let them into Hawaii, but there is no problem with Alaskans having a Tegu collection.
This amendment switches things up and says you can’t ship anything across state lines until it is on a white list. Which means no species can be transported until it goes through the legal system and is specifically cleared that it is not injurious to the environment. On the surface that actually sounds reasonable, but this raises the list to a federal level so anything that can escape and live in Florida will not be allowed to travel into Alaska. And puts an enormous amount of power in the hands of people who would love to see the pet trade disappear. Imagine the wait time to get a species through all the red tape to get approved. And if there are only ten in the country how much attention you think they will get?
The reason why they specifically changed the wording to isolate the states is that they know that our community is growing fueled by ecommerce. If they can isolate the breeders then the breeders go out of business and with wild caughts not coming in and captive breds not available they achieve a significant goal. This amendment may not chop the head off, but it swipes the knees out. And that is their goal. To be clear, they are not taking anyone’s pets away. This is a long game play. They are attacking future captive bred generations. They are okay with whatever people have now. They want to remove the next generation to replace them. So please don’t go off on how they won’t get your reptiles unless they pry them from your cold dead hands. You sound like a lunatic when you talk like that. That doesn’t help at all. Not only does that have nothing to do with the bill, it confirms everything that the lobbyists have said about reptile people.
I also see this meme going around saying that cats kill more native wildlife and yet rpetiles are being targeted. This is incorrect as well on two points. First, this amendment is not just for reptiles, but all animals. So the small mammal people, bird people, fish people and zoos are affected as well. And, even if this was a reptile bill, they would do that because the cat people are just too big to take on directly. The animal rights people would love cat ownership banned as well. We reptile people get a lot of attention only because we are smaller and off the main stream so there is a better chance of taking us down. But don’t be misinformed, they don’t want cat ownership either. The cat people are just not as vunerable as we are. So, get used to being on the front lines.
So, you have heard me use the word community often. That is what we are and, my goodness, what a diverse community we are. We are a strange community because most of us never know others exist. The reptile community, and when I say “reptile” I mean reptile, amphibian, invertebrate, and whatever else doesn’t fit in with mammal, bird or fish. That’s us. We are all in the same boat. And what a curious crew we make. We are all in our little groups and a chameleon person may or may not ever know a ball python person. And a leopard gecko person may never cross paths with a tarantula person. So, our community has the disadvantage that were are splintered by interests. We are splintered even further still by standard human infighting. Does anyone actually want to come together for anything? Well, we better. Or else it can all disappear.
Now, I know we like to think that everyone has the best of intentions and surely they have some good points and we can reach a compromise. That is suppose to be the democratic way, right? Yeah, have you ever noticed how radical elements that take a black and white stance seem to be more powerful? As soon as we humans think we are right and others are wrong it seems to justify any sort of behavior to win. It doesn’t matter that we, in the reptile community, are minding our own business. If someone has a deep religious conviction that we are evil, there is no compromise. And I go through all of this to make it clear that we are dealing with a group of people that do not see compromise as an acceptable outcome. The bill is about protecting the environment and humans, but the intent is not protection. They want to win and crush pet keeping. This is just the next step tool they are using. And before you accuse me of using needless dramatics to paint them as the bad guys out to get us, here is the metric I use. When you are drafting legislation you include the people it affects. Marco Rubio, the senator that submitted this amendment talked with someone. Because when you do something quietly you aren’t doing it for the people. You are doing it for your financial supporters. He wasn’t talking to the zoos or anyone from the pet community. So, yes, when a bill is submitted that could cripple an entire industry without input from that industry, I am justified in painting it as a special interests strike against us. And we have to treat it as such and meet it as such.
Now, the concepts that are discussed aren’t necessarily bad ideas. We love keeping our reptiles, but we also love animals in general and value our environment. So there is common ground here. At least between us and the middle of the line conservationist. So, what if we in the reptile and pet keeping community came together and made our own self-regulating legislation? What if we took a look at the whole situation and put legal measures in place that solved the problems we have and created standards that were enforceable that would safeguard responsible keeping and breeding. If there was a regulatory body that could show the public that we take their concerns seriously and we have them as well. We don’t want animals treated as throw away objects and we don’t want cobras getting loose. And you know that if we don’t propose standards that keep this from happening that people outside the hobby will and they are not interested in compromise. They don’t want to spend the effort to protect your rights to keep reptiles they see as dangerous. Would the community feel better knowing that anyone keeping a venomous snake has had a facility that is up to code for safety and is checked on an annual basis? Sounds like a lot of effort when you can just make it illegal to keep venomous snakes…wait, so are rear fanged snakes venomous what about boas?…nah, just make all snakes illegal. And it is kind of hard to say we love our reptiles when you can go to a reptile show in 2022 and see reptiles kept in horrid conditions. Chameleon people how do you feel about adult veiled chameleons in plastic clamshells stacked on a table? Or 20 of them in a screen cage with one branch? I, personally, think regulations that would make it take effort to be a legal breeder and reseller of reptiles along with education and regular recertification would be a positive. And, yes, it would do away with the cheap reptile. But, you are going to be pushing a boulder up a hill to convince anyone cheap reptiles are a net positive. Making reptile keeping a luxury would make them more expensive which would make it easier for people to actually make a living being a reptile breeding specialist and dedicate what it takes to have a top notch facility that produces the highest quality of animals. And the buyers would be much more serious. I can hear people complain about how much more expensive it would be. Well, this isn’t a discussion about commodities. Reptiles are living beings. They have the right to be treated with the respect any living being should. Instead of banning pet ownership, how about we create a program where wild caught imports can only go to licensed reptile breeders and pet stores can only sell captive bred animals? Think about what that would do to the art of breeding reptiles and how much more serious it would become. Yes, there would be plenty of things that needed to be hammered out to make sure it worked well. But, the important thing is that we are hammering it out ourselves and it isn’t being dictated to us by people that philosophically hate us. So, this is a fight of us against them. Make no mistake about that. And the price of losing is that we lose the ability to have a significant pet reptile community. Sure, we won’t disappear, but our growth will be stunted. And we are just now starting to become big enough that there is a growth of exotic veterinary services that can be supported. You see, being a large community means we can be a better community. So, yes, this is a fight.
But, the concepts being tossed around are not 100% wrong. Going forward I suggest we embrace those concepts and see how we can be in the drivers seat as to how they will be addressed. Now, I have not been deep into politics. I am sure this has been discussed before. And Phil Goss at USARK would be the next stop for me to see what merit this idea has and I suspect I haven’t been the first to come up with it so I am betting there is a history. The point I am trying to make is that having concerns about non-native animals ruining the environment or being a danger to humans is completely appropriate and you can oppose this amendment and still acknowledge that there should be something done. But that “something to be done” need to be done with the pet industry and zoo community directly involved with crafting the legislation and part of the execution of it. It should not be something slipped in hoping no one notices it is there and then we all wake up one morning unable to ship chameleons across state lines.
Okay, what to do now. As of mid-February the Senate is going on a recess and then they will come back and work through a budget. Then they will get to debating the COMPETES act to ensure the US can stay competitive with China for electronics. We do not want to say we are against the COMPETES act! We want our senators to not include this amendment into the final COMPETES act. So we are urging them to just not include this totally off-topic amendment in the final bill. Putting it off until another day is a whole lot easier for them to do than vote against the entire COMPETES act. So what we need to do is make them know that there is a significant number of people that are not happy about this amendment.
As of mid-February, it is a good time to start sending emails and faxes and letters to your senator letting them know this is a big deal. Right now this is setting the stage and the more they hear about it the more they won’t be interested being responsible for including it in a bill that they will vote for. So now is very important to make noise. We will have to ratchet it up when they actually start the discussions on the COMPETES act. But don’t wait for that to communicate with your senator. Don’t make it a surprise when you call again in a month to remind them! You don’t want to annoy them, but emailing, writing, faxing, or calling now to warn them what was slipped in and then emailing, writing, faxing, or calling when they are actually discussing it would be a totally appropriate couple of touchpoints. What is important is that we are coordinated in our efforts and not just throwing random noise. The direction for our efforts needs to come from one source and that one source is Phil Goss at USARK.org. He has the experience to know what will and won’t work and when it needs to be done. I am not going to give direction here because it may change depending on what is going on when you are listening to this. But at USARK.org there will be the latest in information and if we, as a community, show solidarity and do what USARK directs then we will be much more persuasive and effective.
Also, right now, USARK is our one legal representative and fighting to protect our reptile keeping hobby is their one purpose. Making them appear strong helps our cause tremendously. When Phil goes to talk to law makers they want to know how many people he represents. The bigger the number the more he gets listened to. So it is critical that you become a member of USARK. That is how you are counted. And they make it so easy. When you go to the website you can literally buy a membership for $20 a year. Yes, a year. For $1.67 a month you can be counted. Now, money is what speaks the loudest so you can give more. You can do $40 a year, $5 a month (which is $60 a year), a Silver membership at $250 a year or Gold member at $1000 a year. And here is the opportunity that when you give I want you to broadcast it. Let everyone know you are a proud member of USARK so they get the idea that this is a good thing. I am a silver member and I put that badge on my website and it is going on social media. Am I bragging? Yes, and I want you to do the same and brag too. Because what this does it is creates community momentum. It becomes a badge of honor and it encourages others to join. I do not condone the tone of self-righteousness starting up and the shaming I see going on. Your example is powerful. Stop with the unhealthy destructive actions on our community. I know it makes you feel special, but don’t. Feel special by showing off your badge and being helpful to people trying to figure things out. Live by example and you’ll be surprised at your following.
So, here is your action items list
- Go to USARK.org and get familiar with the latest news as to what is going on.
- Become a member of USARK so Phil can be a much more effective advocate for us.
- Make it a point to contact your senator now and later when they are in debates on this. USARK.org has the relevant talking points and guides you in how to use them.
- Dedicate yourself to being the kind of reptile keeper that would be a certified breeder or educator under this legislation that only exists in my mind right now. If we conduct ourselves to the highest standards now then we create, by example, a wider community that adheres to the highest standards. And that is the best way to outreach to a community that is fearful of reptiles. Win them over and we cut down on the number of people who will support damaging legislation.
I appreciate you joining me hear and caring enough to be part of defending our community. We are constantly in a life or death struggle and I am sad to say that this isn’t going to be a one off fight. This is going to have to be a lifestyle if we are going to beat this. Phil has been shouldering much of this for years. By actively supporting USARK both financially and with whatever call to action there is we make him much more effective. So, yes, right now is a very good time to get deeply involved. And at $20 a year, anyone can do that. So, please be part of this. We need to solve some problems. But what is going on now is not the way to do it.
Cherish every day you have with your chameleon. Don’t take it for granted. This is Bill Strand signing off. I’ll see you next time.