Florida’s invasive snake issue a sign of trouble that may come

snake whacking day
Wildlife officials are teaching every day residents how to identify and round up invasive snakes in Florida. That’s how desperate times have become in the sunshine state.

According to an article in The Globe and Mail, invasive snakes – namely pythons such as the Burmese – began strengthening their populations decades ago. Playing into this was the release of exotic snakes bought and sold as pets into Florida’s tropical ecosystem. They were first found in the 1970s.

“We consider [Burmese pythons] established, which means the hope of removing them is pretty slim,” said Jenny Novak, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist in an interview. “We’re in management mode now.”

The pythons can take on native species as large as alligators. There are an estimated 150,000 Burmese pythons now calling southern Florida home.

The issue of invading snakes may not be large for the Canadian landscape – after all, when temperatures can easily plummet to -40 degrees for several months of the year, the tag of ‘tropical ecosystem’ doesn’t quite apply. But the concept of invasive species, wildlife management and ecosystems faltering is very, very real.

It’s not fair to say, as Monday morning biologists, that Florida Fish and Wildlife officials should have seen this coming. But it is fair to look at the issue historically and start asking questions.

When did they first realize there was a problem? When was legislation put in place to allow for education, enforcement and other actions? Was funding made available so that the education, enforcement and so on could take place?

The issue of invasive snakes threatening ecosystems may not be too familiar for Canadians. But the idea of a shadowy industry allowed to largely regulate itself without legislative oversight? That starts to feel closer to home.

While Florida is on the verge of recreating the Simpson’s 1993 episode Snake Whacking Day, Canada has a chance to stop environmental disaster before it starts. But only if our political leaders have the courage to do what’s right, rather than what’s easy.

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