Proposed Regulation Amendment

4VAC15-30-40. Definitions and Miscellaneous: Importation, Possession, Sale, Etc., of Animals. Importation requirements, possession and sale of nonnative (exotic) animals.

Summary

The proposal is to (i) add certain nonnative species of animals currently included on the federal list of endangered and threatened species to the list of predatory and undesirable species; (ii) add the oriental weatherfish to the list, (iii) update taxonomic references in the list of predatory and undesirable species, and (iv) remove subsection E, exception for certain mammals.

Text of Regulation

Rationale

In 1950, the Virginia General Assembly empowered the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries to regulate animals identified as "predatory or undesirable." Animals are classified as such because they pose a threat to native and naturalized wildlife in Virginia via the introduction of disease; direct competition for food and habitats; outright displacement; etc. The Board adopted regulations in 1992 that specifically identify nonnative (exotic) animals that are "predatory or undesirable," and the conditions under which individuals could possess such animals in Virginia. The list and conditions have since been amended ten times, usually to add species to the list or clarify the conditions. The intent of these regulations is to be as permissive as possible in allowing the public the freedom to possess and own a range of wildlife; however, the Board's responsibility for protecting Virginia's native and naturalized species necessitate that this list and the conditions be updated as new information documents potentially harmful impacts of exotics on the state's indigenous wildlife.

Importation of non-native (exotic) animals into Virginia occurs continuously. The Department receives requests from individuals, colleges and universities, corporations, and other commercial enterprises on a near-daily basis. Reasons for importing these animals are varied and quite diverse. A permit is required because these animals would be detrimental to the native fish and wildlife resources if they became established in Virginia. The permit review process provides an opportunity for Department specialists to determine if there are specific circumstances under which an entity or individual may bring a non-native (exotic) animal into the Commonwealth.

(i) Addition of Species to the List of Predatory and Undesirable Species: Legislation was passed during the 2014 Virginia General Assembly, effective July 1, 2014, that amends the Virginia Endangered Species Act (Code of Virginia §29.1, Chapter 6) to allow the possession, breeding, sale and transport of certain non-native wildlife species appearing on the federal list of endangered and threatened species. The legislative amendment indicates that the federal listing final rule must not specifically exclude these activities and that the species is not included on the board's list of predatory and undesirable species. Staffs have completed a comprehensive review of all of the federally-listed species and have identified a number of them for which their presence in the Commonwealth presents a threat to Virginia's native and naturalized wildlife species. The most common reasons for a species to be recommended for addition include potential for introduction of diseases; establishment of self-sustaining wild populations; competition; displacement; and/or predation. The addition of the species proposed in this recommendation will preclude the possession, breeding, sale and transport of them within and into the Commonwealth.

(ii) Additionally, staff recommends including the oriental weatherfish (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus) to the list of predatory and undesirable species. This animal is native to much of eastern Asia. It is also known as the "dojo" or "weather loach," and is available through the pet industry as an aquarium fish. The species is a cold-tolerant, benthic insectivore with the ability to live in various freshwater environments. Once released outside its native range, it can spread widely and directly compete with native fish species. Research has determined that when introduced, the species increases levels of turbidity and nitrogen, having an effect similar to carp. In the U.S., it now occurs in Alabama, California, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington. Adjacent to Virginia, this species has been discovered as recently as 2009 in the Haw River system in North Carolina and 2007 in the Patapsco River in Maryland. It appears to be well-suited to colonization in the Mid-Atlantic region, and is spreading quickly.

(iii) Updates to Taxonomy (Housekeeping): In a recent review of the list of predatory and undesirable species currently listed in regulation, staff identified several technical inaccuracies associated with scientific and common names. Under the Family Ambystomatidae, the three separate species should be eliminated and replaced with one entry for all Ambystomid (mole) salamanders. The taxonomic authority for Ambystoma salamander species recently reclassified the eastern tiger salamander and barred tiger salamander as separate species (rather than subspecies of the same species); this authority also reclassified sever tiger salamander species as subspecies of the barred tiger salamander. Our original intent was to include all non-native Ambystomid salamanders on the list of predatory and undesirable species; the recommended change clarifies that designation based on current taxonomy. Additionally, the "Order" for the crocodilian species (crocodiles, gavils, alligators, and caimans) already on the list needs to be added; these species were previously identified erroneously as belonging to the Order Squamata. They are, in fact, part of the Order Crocodilia.

(iv) Eliminating the Exception for Certain Mammals: In 1992, when the Board adopted the initial list of predatory and undesirable species and certain conditions and exceptions for possessing, transporting, etc., those species, it was petitioned by several major circus companies to provide some exception to facilitate the transit of their trains of animals and employees into and through the Commonwealth to performance locations. At the time, the industry made a case that it was already licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), even though they bring in animals found on this list (e.g., big cats, bears), and that applying for a state permit was time-consuming, unnecessary and redundant. Unfortunately, other entities and individuals possessing the same USDA permit have also used this exception to import, possess, and transport mammals otherwise prohibited on the list of predatory and undesirable species. Without some type of permitting and reporting mechanism, the Department is unaware of the existence of many large (and potentially dangerous) mammals in the Commonwealth. This situation puts Department employees, local law enforcement officers, and others at risk when they visit locations at which these animals are found and delays responsiveness to public safety situations where animals may have escaped or been released. Removing the exception (E) would require all individuals in possession of animals included on the list of predatory and undesirable species to apply for DGIF's permit to exhibit wild animals in Virginia. Staffs have already been coordinating with the circus industry for the past 10 years, and the individual companies are already applying for and receiving an exhibitor's permit. This proposed change will have little to no impact on that industry.

Comment on this proposal:

You are invited to comment on this proposal. To do so, please provide this identifying information.