Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Carole's Comment Letter to the FWC on Neighborhood Notification

October 8, 2007

 

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

620 South Meridian Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600

Linda.harrison@MyFWC.com

 

Attn:  Captain Linda Harrison

 

RE:  Neighbor Notification Draft

 

It is apparent that the FWC staff has made some common sense recommendations in their current draft of 68A-6.003.  The common sense comment is that if you have to ask the question, you already know the answer. 

 

Of course there should be a requirement for safety entrances on all exotic wildlife cages and of course there should be at least an 8 foot fence around the perimeter.  Of course neighbors should be notified before someone moves in with dangerous wild animals, they should be notified if they are already in the area and they should be alerted immediately upon the escape of any of them.  Of course these animals should not be kept in residential neighborhoods and if a public safety rule applies to a new applicant it should apply to an existing one.  It only makes sense that these rules should apply to all of the animals in each class, no matter what age or species. 

 

That is the short and simple answer.  It is the answer you would get if the public really knew what is going on. 

 

As more and more reporters are becoming interested in this topic (largely because of the increase in killings, maulings and escapes by captive wild animals which are daily in the headlines now) people will know and will respond predictably.  There are only 21 accredited zoos and 3 accredited sanctuaries in FL and most of the rest of the licensees (did you guys say 8,000?) are people who fit a certain profile according to all of the reporters I have been talking to. 

 

They say that they find the person who has a captive wild animal as a pet is usually the illiterate, social misfit who defines themselves by the kind of animal they own.  They invariable believe that they are special because they believe they have a bond with a wild animal that others do not.  The very fact that they perceive themselves to operate outside of the unwavering laws of nature illustrates that they are delusional.  They do not want their neighbors to know what they are doing because they know that it isn’t right.  When people are proud of something, they want everyone to know.

 

Until now they have been able to hide the suffering that is inherent in keeping wild animals captive and they applaud the FWC and USDA for enabling them to meet the most minimal of standards, which cannot be enforced effectively, because it adds credibility to their activities to be able to say that they are permitted by these entities.  The public then assumes that the FWC and USDA have the funding and staffing necessary to ensure that these animals are not mistreated but the videos I have been sending you and publishing online show that isn’t true. 

 

If you find the common sense answers in the first couple of paragraphs sufficient for making my case, you can ignore the following detailed reasons.  They are numbered like your draft.

 

68A-6.003 (1)  Safety entrances to wild animal enclosures are standard operating procedures for any responsible facility and the only requirement that I did not see addressed, which seems like a common sense issue, but if you don’t spell it out then it isn’t a violation until it fails.  The safety entrance should be constructed in such a way that at least one door is fully shut and latched before the other is opened.  I have seen people build the doors too close together and when they can’t get a carrier between the doors will just leave both standing open. 

 

There was no mention of barricades around the cages, but this becomes the same issue.  Your language says that the barricade shall prevent contact, but a line in the sand works until someone steps over it.  If people who cannot even spell barricade are going to be issued permits to own big cats then the regulations should be idiot proof (to the greatest extent that is possible.)

 

(2) (a) I know you crossed this off, but my guess is that the public outcry is going to put it back on the list, so, for the record;  Applicants should not only have to notify their neighbors before moving in, but the neighbors should actually have some recourse provided to prevent the facility from setting up shop.  To just require notification and not give the public any real right to prevent the introduction of dangerous wild animals to their community serves no purpose other than to look good on paper that you required it. 

 

If the intent is more than just to make it look like you considered public opinion, then it stands to reason that you should require what we did at Big Cat Rescue.  We applied for a rezoning and went through the entire process necessary for any non conforming use that included notifying the neighbors, having the county decide if this was appropriate for the area and zoning and then two public meetings where comments were heard before the Board of County Commissioners approved the plan.  This would mean that the FWC would have to allow cities and counties to decide if they wanted this in their area and allow them to enact more stringent requirements than those imposed by the FWC.  We both know that if you do that there will never be another back yard breeder approved in this state, so I am not optimistic that the FWC will embrace this idea.

 

Everyone knows that people don’t want these places next to them and that there is no reason they should be.  If the FWC doesn’t give the public what they want, their only option is to support a constitutional amendment that turns the decision making process over to people who are elected into office.  This is the plan for 2008 as there has been so little progress by the FWC and the glaring gaps in the draft indicate that the real issues are not being addressed adequately. 

 

2.  This is another case where it would be a good thing for licensees to be required to notify neighbors and the FWC of an escape, and at first blush it may look good on paper, but I see nothing in the language that requires the local authorities be notified or that emergency response personnel be notified, or any sort of requirement that the licensee keep an updated list of contacts for any of these people or what would constitute notification.  After an escape is not the time to be trying to find out the names and phone numbers of your neighbors.  The adjacent neighbors are a good start, but by the time you walk next door your big cat could be several miles away, so how far is far enough?  I am all for the notification requirement, but again, it needs to be something real and not just something that looks good on paper. 

 

2. c.  I understand the intent of most of this and agree.  I did not understand why, if the property is owned, there is a requirement that it “shall not be comprised of more than two (2) parcels”.  Our 45 acre property is four parcels because I have been adding on.  The first two were ten acres each, then I bought 2.5 acres and then I bought 3 acres.  The shortest boundary any of them share is over 300 feet, so why would that be prohibited in your language?  I donated all four of them to the non profit, Big Cat Rescue.  I think the intent was somehow just misconstrued in the language. 

 

5.  I love number 5.  It is like the current application question where you look at the application and think that zoning could preclude a wild animal menagerie just like it can keep a CPA from opening up shop in a residential neighborhood, but it doesn’t really give zoning any sort of power over the situation.  In this new version it says “zoned solely for residential use.”  and only applies to Class I.  Every residential neighborhood that I know of that has 5 acre tracts was built for the purpose of allowing horses, so you have built in the loop hole to allow lions and tigers where they were never meant to be while making it look like you were trying to be considerate of the neighbors. 

 

This is such an easy one.  If you have to be operating a commercial business to have a Class I animal then you should be required to house the commercial business assets (the big cats) on commercially zoned property or a planned development such as a zoo.  It’s that simple.

 

There should not be exemptions for baby animals.  They grow up.  There should not be exemptions for any of the other animals you list because there is no reasonable argument for why they should be exempted.  The only reason such exemptions are being proffered is because people have them.  That is no reason.

 

Exempting cats who can jump 10-12 feet straight up, and saying they only require a 5 foot fence is obviously only so that zoning cannot prevent them with rules that do not allow 8 foot fences in certain areas.  This is an obvious attempt to circumvent any power than zoning could have to prevent animals in areas where the public clearly does not want them.  Proposing such rules only makes it clear that there is no real intent to protect the public nor slow the trade in these animals. 

 

You still haven’t addressed the most important issues which include the necessity to re-class all exotic cats to Class I and especially the cats that are already considered by the rest of the nation in federal language to be big cats which includes cougars, all of the leopard species and cheetahs.  These animals almost never work out long term as pets and to create a system whereby people can legally obtain them as pets just encourages the inevitable abandonment at some point. 

 

In years past we would go to our legislators asking for help in passing laws that protect the animals and the citizens in Florida from the hand full of tiger-tamer-wannabees who are drawn here by the sympathetic treatment they get from the FWC.  As other states are banning these activities they are seeing the numbers of killings, maulings and escapes dropping to zero or near zero, while Florida continues to escalate.  See the chart I presented to the FWC Commissioners.  In many cases these states initially looked to Florida to consider modeling regulations after yours, but once they saw the disastrous results and the cost involved in allowing these activities, they have been opting for bans, such as the one just passed in Washington state. 

 

Bans and tougher regulations, such as the Python bill and bond issue are almost always unanimously agreed upon in the legislature because these elected officials represent the majority who elect them. 

 

This year there has been a shift.  Instead of people like me going to legislators and asking for help, they are coming to us already for the 2008 session and asking how we can end the importation and trade in wild animals in Florida.  It is going to happen.  The only question is if the FWC is going to stop the trade or if the constitutional authority will be returned to the legislature. 

 

 

 

CC:  Col. Jones, Captain West, FWC Commissioners

 

 

For the cats,

 

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

http://www.BigCatRescue.org    MakeADifference@BigCatRescue.org

 

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