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From Burmese Pythons to Zebra Mussels: New Study Proposes Federal Law to Limit Nonnative Animal Species

February 2, 2012

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT -- A new study by a Vermont Law School alumnus proposes a detailed comprehensive federal law to curtail invasive and exotic animal species that are causing environmental, economic and public health risks across the American landscape.

Image of pythons"Forget the war on drugs. What the United States needs is a war on invasive animal species," writes Jane Graham, author of the study, titled "Snakes on a Plain, or in a Wetland: Fighting Back Invasive Nonnative Animals-Proposing a Federal Comprehensive Invasive Nonnative Animal Species Statute." The article is published in Volume 25, Issue 1 of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal.

The proposed law addresses creatures great and small-from Burmese pythons that are devouring native wildlife in the Everglades (according to a study by the U.S. Geological Study released Monday) to the lions, tigers and bears released from a private compound in Ohio in October.

Scholars and regulators have advised the federal government to create a comprehensive scheme, but no such statute or proposed statute exists.

"U.S. laws dealing with the critical problem of invasive species are lacking central pieces and are uncoordinated," writes Graham, who received an LL.M. in environmental law from Vermont Law School in 2011. "A new comprehensive statute could improve mechanisms for prevention, punishment, cost recovery and incentives."

The United States' current menagerie of federal, state and local laws are ineffective in controlling Burmese pythons, Asian carp, zebra mussels, exotic pets and other invaders that are causing a growing amount of environmental degradation, economic waste, public health risks, human injuries and wildlife trafficking, according to the study.

Graham argues that current federal statutes and frameworks-including the Lacey Act, Executive Order 13112, National Invasive Species Act and laws that deal with single species-are either too broad or too narrow; lack cost recovery and incentive tools; are reactive; do not have the force of law; are too vague; or lack significant penalties.

Other laws-such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and Animal Health Protection Act as well as state laws, public nuisance laws, free market solutions and exotic pet restrictions-also are insufficient, according to the article.

The article proposes a model federal law that calls for:

• A "clean" list of species that are allowed into the country instead of the current "dirty" list that prohibits specific species.
• A process that explains exactly how risk assessment decisions will be determined.
• Uniform restrictions on exotic-and potentially all-animal ownership.
• Increased public awareness of invasive animal laws.
• Higher and uniform fines and criminal penalties for violations.
• Methods to fund restoration of ecosystems damaged by invasive species
• Entrepreneurship and partnerships between government and private businesses.

Graham is available to comment at or 561.271.5766. Her article was written with guidance from her master's thesis advisor VLS Assistant Professor Pamela Vesilind. Graham is currently Everglades Policy Associate for Audubon of Florida in Miami.

CONTACT: John Cramer, Associate Director of Media Relations
Office: 802.831.1106, cell: 540.798.7099, home: 802.649.2235,

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