There’s been a debate about iguana extermination in South Florida since summer, but answers are proving costly for PETA.
How Florida came up with rules regarding killing invasive pythons and iguanas is proving a costly query for the animal rights group PETA, which got a $74,800 estimate this month for a public records request regarding extermination methods.
Debate over the best method to humanely dispatch iguanas raged this past summer when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encouraged "homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible," but didn’t provide details on how to go about the deed.
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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has had concerns about humane python kills since the state began organizing contests in 2013 to take out the voracious snake that thrives in the warm, marshy Everglades.
Since then, new programs have emerged that pay python hunters an hourly wage and bonuses based on snake length, and companies advertise their iguana-culling skills, but the last either met a widespread demise was a 2010 cold spell.
Invasive reptiles are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty laws, although FWC’s website says poisons cannot be used to kill them. Experts said iguanas should also not be drowned, frozen or decapitated (a reptile's brain can remain active for up to a minute following decapitation).
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"At one point there were instructions posted about pythons with some very minimal information such as a proper positioning of projectiles, but as far as I can tell, that’s all been taken down," said Lori Kettler, PETA’s vice president and deputy general counsel for regulatory affairs. "We also want to know whether there have been reports of incidents when these animals were killed inhumanely."
So Kettler made a public records request for emails and other documents relating to iguana and python management under Florida’s broad Sunshine Law.
After some negotiating on search terms and narrowing the time period to 2016 through 2019, FWC estimates there are approximately 377,609 emails that would have to be reviewed at $17 per hour.
An additional request for other documents would cost $10,616.
The total: $74,810.37.
"That’s a huge sum," said Frank LoMonte, a University of Florida professor and director of The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information who reviewed the bill. "But it’s also a really voluminous request."
Florida law allows agencies to charge the cost of employees’ time in retrieving and producing documents, and the $17 an hour is more reasonable than what LoMonte is accustomed to seeing, he said.
"Some agencies try to charge three or four times that much for the time of an attorney to review the messages," he said.
While federal Freedom of Information Act laws provide for graduated pricing depending on the type of organization making the request, such as media or a non profit, Florida law has no such provision.
LoMonte said he thinks the request could be narrowed further to reduce costs by targeting individual officials so email replies would be eliminated.
"When you see tens of thousands of email messages about a pretty specific topic, like iguanas or pythons, you can be sure that there really aren’t 30,000 unique messages," he said.
But Kettler said she’s made similar requests for the past 20 years and has had less than a handful of cases where fees were so high.
"The public has a right to know what the agency is or isn’t doing to ensure that animals are killed humanely," Kettler said. "In effect, this is really discouraging access to public information."
FWC clarified its position on iguanas in late July saying people shouldn’t "just go out there and shoot them up."
"Unfortunately, the message has been conveyed that we are asking the public to just go out there and shoot them up," said FWC Commissioner Rodney Barreto. "This is not what we are about, this is not the Wild West. If you are not capable of safely removing iguanas from your property, please seek assistance from professionals who do this for a living."
Still, Barreto's statement didn’t offer any details on best-killing methods. A press release does link to an FWC website with more information, however, the site also doesn't offer clear guidelines.