FWC: Florida Is Now 'Off Limits to Any New Species'

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has announced that the state is now "off limits to any new species," as it seeks to crack down on invasive species.

Officials have proposed a plan where a risk analysis will be required on any species that is brought into the state.

FWC Chair Rodney Barreto said in a statement that he has "no qualms" on shutting Florida off to new species.

"You are going to have to prove to us that what you are bringing in is not hurting Florida, that it will not harm our native ecosystem," said Barreto. "Look what the Burmese python and the tegu have done already. We are not trying to hurt the industry, but the time has come that we say Florida is off limits to any new species."

The FWC reported there are more than 500 invasive species already living in the state.

Many of these have been introduced through the animal trade. These non-native animals can find their way into the state's habitats, such as the everglades, through escape or release. If the species starts breeding and thriving in these habitats, it can create an established population.

Florida is particularly susceptible to invasive species due to its subtropical climate. This means many species that end up being harmful to the ecosystem can thrive in the area.

Burmese pythin
A stock photo shows a Burmese python. The species are invasive to Florida. dwi septiyana/Getty

One such example of this is the Burmese python, which is becoming an increasingly difficult problem for Florida.

Burmese pythons, have lived in Florida since the 1980s. Exactly how they came to be in the state is not confirmed, but officials believe the first snakes escaped as pets or were intentionally released.

The snakes have thrived in Florida's subtropical climate ever since. There could be hundreds of thousands living in the state, but numbers are hard to confirm.

Burmese pythons are incredibly harmful to Florida's native ecosystem. They feast on the state's natural wildlife, which subsequently harms the surrounding environment. A female python can lay 50 to 100 eggs at a time, meaning the population is difficult to control.

A spokesperson for the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told Newsweek: "Burmese pythons are a cryptic species, hard to detect even in grass as short as 3-6 inches high. Though estimating population size has not been possible due to low detectability, to date, over 18,000 pythons have been observed or removed from Florida and reported to the FWC since 2000.

"The combination of low detection rates and harsh and difficult-to-access habitat has challenged public land manager's ability to assess population and apply control methods across the landscape."

The Argentine black and white tegu is another example of an invasive species that is posing severe challenges to the state's native ecosystem.

The FWC and other researchers have implemented many initiatives to help control these species. One such initiative is the annual Burmese python hunt, which encourages hunters across the state to catch as many of the snakes as they can.

"Organizations take a multi-pronged approach to python control that includes the python contractor program, scout snakes, detector dogs, as well as new approaches. Currently there are many organizations working on finding new innovative technologies and techniques for controlling this invasive species," the spokesperson said.

South Florida researchers, for example, have recently introduced an initiative to fit GPS trackers to possums and raccoons. When a possum stopped moving, because it had been eaten by a Burmese python, researchers were able to track the movements of the snakes.

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