Can we change the USDA's mind?

Mr. Mordax

Arachnoking
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Maybe I'm just being overly-hopeful . . . but does anyone think it's humanly possible to change the USDA's policy on "pest" species of arthropods by starting a petition or something similar?

I'm not wanting certain arthropods to lose pest status, because I know there's no way that's going to happen. Maybe just change the regulations on owning them. What I've found on the APHIS website just says you need a permit to move them from state-to-state, but it still seems like it's illegal for unlicensed individuals to own or distribute them.

In my ideal little daydream, I thought that maybe, through a petition (again being hopeful), the regulations could be changed to allow individuals to procure a permit after passing a "plant pest safety" test and signing a document agreeing not to do anything stupid with them (i.e., releasing into the wild).

What does everyone think? Would a petition be useless, considering this is a major branch of the government we're dealing with? Or would we even be able to get enough signatures?
 

arachnocat

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I don't think it's useless. All I really want is that the rules and regulations be made clearer to hobbyists. Doesn't seem like it would be that difficult for them to at least do that for us.
I know there are people on here who are going to say it's pointless to try, but I say why not. It wouldn't take a huge amount of resources to at least bring the issue to their attention.
 

Cheshire

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Maybe I'm just being overly-hopeful . . . but does anyone think it's humanly possible to change the USDA's policy on "pest" species of arthropods by starting a petition or something similar?

I'm not wanting certain arthropods to lose pest status, because I know there's no way that's going to happen. Maybe just change the regulations on owning them. What I've found on the APHIS website just says you need a permit to move them from state-to-state, but it still seems like it's illegal for unlicensed individuals to own or distribute them.

In my ideal little daydream, I thought that maybe, through a petition (again being hopeful), the regulations could be changed to allow individuals to procure a permit after passing a "plant pest safety" test and signing a document agreeing not to do anything stupid with them (i.e., releasing into the wild).

What does everyone think? Would a petition be useless, considering this is a major branch of the government we're dealing with? Or would we even be able to get enough signatures?
It wouldn't be useless in it's entirety.

I'm in a position to *maybe* have potential talks with someone from the USDA (after months of attempted contact, no less).

This is all I'm going to say, though. I still need to talk my way into the correct department.
 

xelda

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In my ideal little daydream, I thought that maybe, through a petition (again being hopeful), the regulations could be changed to allow individuals to procure a permit after passing a "plant pest safety" test and signing a document agreeing not to do anything stupid with them (i.e., releasing into the wild).
I really doubt that would work. Zoos and research labs already have to go through a lengthy inspection process to obtain their permits for imported and restricted live insects. I think it's a given that they're not going to do anything stupid like set them free, but there have to be measures taken to ensure that they're kept in escape-proof enclosures and not accidentally thrown out. Then after the zoos and labs are issued their permits, live specimens are not allowed off the premises unless they are going to another inspected facility that has also has the proper permits for ownership.

Then, if they want to do trades or sales, either the shipper or receiver (but usually both have them anyway) needs to have permits for interstate movement approved on the federal and state level so the state can have some say in whether or not they want to risk an introduced species. They very rarely consider giving import and pest possession permits to individuals, but you can try. That's what I was told when I applied for a permit last year to import M. rhinoceros.

By ecological standards, anything that's introduced is a potential pest species because there are no natural forces (predators and competition) to control their populations from spiraling out of control. Believe me, I'm not satisfied with the USDA's definition of pest, but neither are they. It was probably originally designed to protect our agriculture, which will always take priority over our hobby since it affects our entire way of life--our economy, food supply, crop production, everything. So anything that presents the slightest risk is going to have a lot of work stacked against it. You can explain to them that a species is low risk, but I don't think they have the time or resources to verify that you properly identified the species and that it indeed is low risk.
 

arachnocat

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I know that teachers are able to obtain permits to keep certain insects. I wonder if they need the same containment facility as a lab or an inspection?
 

Cheshire

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I know that teachers are able to obtain permits to keep certain insects. I wonder if they need the same containment facility as a lab or an inspection?
I'm studying entomology, so I'm wondering this as well.
 

Wade

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While I don't think a petition will work (especially an online petition, which take no effort to sign and therefore don't mean much), there may be other avenues that are more effective.

As Xelda pointed out, the USDA doesn't have the time or resources to verify that each species is or isn't a potential pest. Instead of asking for a permitting system for all insects, a better approach would be to put together a carefully researched and considered list of specific animals we'd like to see de-regulated. The animals on the list should be things that have already been cultured for some years. For example, giant millipedes have been staples of the pet trade for many years, at least a few decades. Common sense should indicate if they haven't become pests already, they probably won't now. If they're worried about some new pest mite hitchhiking in, then fine, block the imports abut allow the trade in CB animals to continue. With mantids, the well-established Chinese mantid hasn't exactly destroyed the ecosystem, and it's about as big, hearty and aggressive a predatory insect as you're likely to find (it hasn't even succeeded in displacing the much smaller native Carolina mantid, which is quite abundant and can often be found living in the same bushes with their alien cousins). Mantids just don't occur in the kind of population density that can have any kind of effect either positive or negative. Logically, the delicate lovelies that the hobbyists want don’t pose a threat. Deregulating species that are already in culture makes sense, and maybe an inspection requirement for new species.

Insects that actually eat live plants will be a tough sell, but again, some phasmids have been bred in the US fro 30 years or more. If cryptic insects that drop (or even fling) eggs with nymphs that move fast and are easily thrown out by accident haven’t become established pests yet, it seems unlikely that they ever would. Like mantids, they just don’t have the reproductive potential to have a major impact.

In other words, it pays to be specific and reasonable. It would also help to get some degreed and experienced entomologist on your side. Unfortunately, few of those have the time or inclination to help out the amateur enthusiasts.

Wade
 

Mr. Mordax

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It would also help to get some degreed and experienced entomologist on your side. Unfortunately, few of those have the time or inclination to help out the amateur enthusiasts.
I may be able to get the advisor to the BugZoo to side with such an endeavor, but she's usually really busy with all the other stuff she's working on. Same for my boss.

Maybe something to bring up at the BugZoo's meeting tonight . . .
 

Cheshire

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I'll be transfering up to ISU...a mainly agricultural college. I do sense some future research projects.
 

spydrhunter1

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As an entomologist who has worked in state government for almost 15 years, I say your chances are nil for making the USDA change policy. With state government it can takes years or decades to bring about any kind of legislative change. We have worked for the last 4 years trying to adopt some sort of exotic animal legislation with no success. Currently in our state there is no pet shop monitoring or registration. From someone who works with zoonotic diseases this is a nightmare waiting to happen. From the viewpoint of someone who keeps exotic arthropods himself, there has to be a way for us to keep them (the animals) and still show the government we are responsible owners. We need to start among ourselves assuring that each of us makes the other accountable. It only takes a few bad cases of abuse to fuel the USDA's cause. In the 1960's three giant African snails were brought to Florida by a small boy, his grandmother then released the snails in her garden. It took decades and millions of dollars for the USDA to eradicate the population. Now all exotic snails and slugs are banned in the US.
 

Mr. Mordax

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Based on your experience, it sounds like you know more about the laws than the average hobbyist. Reading them, I couldn't find anything against owning phasmids, just transporting them. Am I correct in this assumption? It would make sense considering the "USDA took my walkingsticks" post, where the poster said how he recently acquired them from a dealer.

I also have seen people selling phasmids at expos (won't say which ones) . . . since that is only a local transfer, with no borders being crossed, would that have been considered OK? Or is the USDA reading this post now and thinking about asking "which expo was that?"
 

spydrhunter1

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I'd have to read the laws for each individual animal because it varies with each group. With exotic snails and slugs you cannot own, let alone transport these animals. Another example would be deer, elk and other cervids. Due to the recent finding of Chronic Wasting Disease in our state, deer farmers can retain their herds but cannot transport animals. These laws regarding exotics are very complex and usually based in good scientific research.
 

Scythemantis

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I'd be overjoyed if you could own Phasmids, but no...doesn't matter if you transport them or not. Having them implies that they had to have been transported one way or another and even if you've had them since before these laws existed they can and will be confiscated once you're found out.
 

arachnocat

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Yes, phasmids are stick insects.
Some sticks are very specific about the types of plants they will eat. They can still be destructive in some circumstances but wouldn't feed on most crops. Maybe one day we will be allowed to keep those if they ever try to sort out the species and not consider them all plant pests. We can hope anyway.
 
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AviculariaLover

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It does seem sort of silly that the government can't make these laws at least CLEAR to us. The other day I spent a few hours searching all the government websites I could find, and the only information I could find was that anything that eats plants is a pest, and that you need permits to transport them into the country or across state lines (even if they are native to that area!). That sure leaves plenty of room for speculation! How can they feel justified in confiscating insects from us when the average person would have no idea whether it was really against the law or not? Like others have mentioned, some things are known to be illegal, while others, it simply deals with transportation. What if they're already here, and you purchase them within your state, and breed them yourself. Say all the questionable animals have died, you only have insects that have been born at your home. What then?

I don't have any questionable specimens myself, but I've always dreamt of owning tropical mantids, and this whole thing is quite frustrating.
 

dtknow

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I think we should petition or somehow pressure the USDA to put up an exemptions list for several select tropical species. Stuff I am thinking of would be a few of the large tropical saturniid moths, some tropical mantids or sticks, some of the tropical stag/hercules beetles. These are really low risk as far as infestation is concerned. Someone would have to do temperature tolerance and similar studies on the lifestages of every species involved.
 

Mr. Mordax

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Like someone else said, though, you'd have to find an entomologist willing to back you on that . . . the only ones I know of are busy enough with what they're focusing their research on. :(

Not a good outlook for hobbyists, it seems . . .
 
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