THE STOP NON-NATIVE ANIMALS FROM KILLING ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce the Stopping Non-Native Animals from Killing Endangered Species, or SNAKES, Act. This bill implements a successful pilot program in which specially trained dogs help to detect the Burmese python and other constrictor reptiles ravaging the Everglades ecosystem. The bill will fund a program to prevent the snakes from establishing sustainable populations in new areas as well as to control the snakes that are already out there.
I am a Florida native and travel across the Everglades frequently. Until recently, there was rarely a time that I would drive through the Everglades and not see animals like wading birds and rabbits along the roadside. Since these snakes have spread over the last few years, however, I rarely see any animals at all anymore. In fact, recent studies have shown the mammal population in the Everglades has declined over 90 percent in some cases.
This drastic reduction in numbers is the result of the Burmese python and other constrictor reptiles wreaking havoc throughout the Everglades, obliterating endangered and local wildlife, and upsetting the delicate balance of the ecosystem. The snakes in Florida are contained to a relatively limited area right now, but they will not remain that way. Experts anticipate that the snakes may expand beyond the Everglades, or escape from pet-owners and breeders in other parts of the country to then possibly establish new breeding populations there.
I am sad to say that while there is no proverbial silver bullet to completely eradicate the snakes already in the Everglades, we do have some tools at our disposal that can stop them from spreading. This bill today implements one such technique that has already recently proved its success in the field.
Auburn University EcoDogs, working along with Federal, State, county, tribal government entities, universities, and non-profit stakeholders, recently trained dogs for a study to assess whether detection dogs were an effective tool for python management efforts. As it turned out, dog search teams can cover more distance and have a higher accuracy rate in particular scenarios than human searchers.
The team consisted of two dogs, named Jake and Ivy, a dog handler and a snake handler. It performed free-ranging python searches on a variety of State, Federal and tribal lands. In controlled searches, dogs performed approximately 2.5 times faster than human searchers, in addition to having a significantly higher success rate of 92 percent during controlled canal searches, when compared to the human search team of 62 percent. The SNAKES Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to work with the stakeholders to establish this detection program.
These specially trained dogs can also respond to specific python sightings throughout the year. A rapid response team will take a dog directly to the site where a python was recently spotted in order to track the snake from
there. In addition to organized searches, this will help manage and control the spread of pythons and other large constrictor snakes.
I would not be introducing this bill if the dogs were ever in any danger, Mr. Speaker. At no point do the dogs approach the snakes. Instead, once a dog indicates that a snake is in the area, it is taken to a safe distance while a human handler captures the snake.
Unfortunately, these snakes have already destroyed much the wildlife of the Everglades. This program alone will not bring them back. Nor will it completely eradicate the snakes that are already breeding, as there are simply too many snakes that are too widespread.
However, these dogs are useful for keeping the snakes where they are and stopping them from spreading to other areas. We should, therefore, quickly establish a full-time dog detection team so that we have the ability to respond with the best tools available in order to prevent what happened in the Everglades from happening anywhere else in the United States.