Florida reptile breeders are suing the state to stop ban on tegu lizards, green iguanas and reticulated pythons

click to enlarge A tegu lizard - Photo via Adobe Stock
Photo via Adobe Stock
A tegu lizard
Arguing that a new law and executive order would “devastate Florida’s commercial reptile industry,” a trade organization and business owners are challenging the constitutionality of state decisions that would largely prevent the possession, breeding and sale of certain types of non-native reptiles.

The United States Association of Reptile Keepers’ Florida Chapter and six individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit last week in Leon County circuit court challenging the constitutionality of a law that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed June 29 and an executive order issued the next day by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton.

The case alleges the Legislature overstepped its authority in passing the law to crack down on species such as tegu lizards, green iguanas and reticulated pythons because the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has constitutional authority to regulate the species. The lawsuit also alleges that the executive order violated the plaintiffs’ due-process rights.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction to block the law and the executive order, pointing to “irreparable harm” for members of the industry.

“They have invested substantial money and other resources into compliance (with regulations in a state program) and now face the imminent destruction of their businesses and investments,” Tallahassee attorneys Tiffany Roddenberry and Larry Sellers wrote in the lawsuit, filed Friday.

“Many will be forced to give up their reptile inventories, which in (many) instances contain invaluable animals that have been specially bred for their genetics. Some businesses will be forced to hastily relocate their animals and may in some instances have no other recourse but to euthanize these animals in an attempt to abide with the abrupt change in regulation by the state.”

Under the new law, tegu lizards and green iguanas cannot be bred and kept for commercial sales, unless for "educational, research or eradication or control purposes."

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Lawmakers passed the measure (SB 1414) as part of broader efforts to restrict or, in some cases, eradicate non-native species that officials say threaten Florida wildlife and even such things as roads and seawalls. The highest-profile example has been efforts to kill pythons in the Everglades.

A presentation scheduled to go before the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission next week said “the greatest pathway by which nonnative fish and wildlife find their way into Florida’s habitats is through escape or release from the pet trade.”

“The level of concern for an individual species is determined by assessing the potential impacts,” the presentation said. “These impacts can be ecological such as direct predation, human health and safety including injury or disease transmission, or economic impacts that are a result of the introduction. Economic damage includes iguanas undermining sea walls and levees. … Pythons directly prey upon a wide variety of birds and mammals, including deer.”

The new law, in part, addresses what have been known as “conditional” species, such as reticulated pythons and green anacondas, which businesses have been able to receive permits to possess for breeding and commercial sales, according to the lawsuit. Those species have not been allowed to be kept privately as pets.

Tegu lizards and green iguanas have not been considered conditional species, but licenses have been needed to sell or exhibit them, the lawsuit said.

The law, which took effect July 1, tightens the restrictions so that the conditional species, tegu lizards and green iguanas cannot be bred and kept for commercial sales, with the only allowable use for “educational, research or eradication or control purposes.” In one caveat, owners of tegu lizards and green iguanas would be allowed to sell or breed the species so long as their licenses remain active, with the sales required to be out of state.

The lawsuit alleges that the Legislature’s passage of the measure improperly encroached on the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s constitutional authority to regulate wildlife. It also alleges that Sutton’s executive order, which is designed to help move forward with the law, was issued without following proper due-process procedures such as providing an opportunity for a hearing.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission next week is slated to take up draft rules to carry out the law, starting a process that could lead to eventual approval of the rules. The presentation going before the commission said Sutton’s executive order “was signed to help bridge the gap between the new statute language going into effect on July 1 and the FWC conforming our rules with the new statutory requirements.”

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