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A victory for the python, a loss for Florida | Editorial

The Trump administration foolishly shuts down efforts to fight invasive species. Total savings: $30,000.
University of Florida researchers hold a 15-foot Burmese python captured in Everglades National Park in 2009. The python had just eaten a 6-foot alligator.
Published Oct. 14

Just as Florida faces its most daunting invasive species challenges, the Trump administration has killed the federal panel that coordinated efforts to identify and eradicate them. That saves a mere $30,000, but it will cause untold damage to the state’s native flora and fauna. It’s a bad decision that should be reversed.

For a generation, the Invasive Species Advisory Committee coordinated all federal efforts at controlling invasive species plaguing the nation. In Florida, think python and melaleuca. Now the python is a great threat to the Everglades, eating up foxes, raccoons and even the occasional alligator. When the panel started, it was the melaleuca, a water-sucking tree. Coordinated efforts to take down the melaleuca are considered a model for the nation and are still ongoing, but melaleuca can now be found as bags of cheap mulch at garden stores. The battle against the python is going far worse. From the first report of an invasive Burmese python 30 years ago, the Everglades is overrun by untold tens of thousands of them now. There is no end in slithering sight.

That’s one of the reasons that Donald Schmitz, the Florida scientist who helped start the committee, told the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman that it’s a “disaster” to shut down the group right now. But that’s exactly what the Trump administration has done.

Florida has more invasive species than any other state, and climate change threatens to make the problem worse as native species struggle against a changing environment and unchecked invaders who often have no natural enemies.

At the final meeting of the invasive committee in late spring, an Interior Department official told the remaining members that “budget constraints" required the panel to go on “administratively inactive status.” The official, principal deputy assistant secretary Scott Cameron, said “the collective cost” of all federal advisory committees was under review as the government tried to streamline their functions.

Unfortunately, as Schmitz, the panel’s pioneer, points out there are 176 entities under the federal government that have some responsibility for controlling invasive species. And with the demise of the coordinating committee, who is left to oversee that work?

It has been a particularly bad few months for protecting Florida’s environment. First, the federal government gutted portions of the Endangered Species Act, stripping away important protections from some of Florida’s most iconic species, including the Key deer, the Florida panther and the manatee. Now, for a paltry amount of money, that same government has killed a committee that was actively coordinating the fight against invasive species, ones that literally don’t belong here at all.

The losers are all of us who love Florida and its endangered wild native beauty. The only winners are those who shouldn’t even be here—like the pythons that are eating and reproducing their way through the Everglades. Such invasive species are now likelier than ever to keep taking over.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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