Should rat snakes and Golden poison frogs require permits? The Maine legislature will decide!

BlackRatSnake1m1Maine’s exotic animal laws and rules are an expensive mess. And the legislature is poised to sort it all out and fix the problems this session. At least I hope so!

 An Act to Restructure the Permitting Process for Wildlife and Exotic Species in Captivity is the title of a bill proposed by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.  While the title is a long one, the agency’s path to bring this to the legislature has been even longer.

The exotic animal bill is sure to draw a lot of interest along with passionate (and possibly angry) debate.  DIF&W has been working for 3 years on a comprehensive overhaul of the laws and rules governing exotic pets. This was one of the top three topics drawing the most readers in my outdoor news blog last year, and after posting the column, I heard from people all over the country. Many were angry with my suggestion that rat snakes and other non-native critters ought to require possession permits.

Currently, rat snakes, bearded dragons, African knife fish, Alligator lizards, Spiny-tailed monitors, Golden poison frog, Gargoyle geckos, and lots of other exotic animals can be possessed in Maine without permits.

While management of exotic animals in Maine is shared by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, most of the job rests with DIF&W which receives no public funding for it, so sportsmen are paying all the bills.

The permits – for animals that require them – are priced at just $23, which doesn’t come close to covering DIF&W’s costs. For example, the agency is supposed to examine the cages of the animals before permits are issued, and annually ever after. And the rules governing cages cover 14 pages!

Wardens are called out to check on exotic animals that are here in Maine without permits, and they have no training that would help them identify the animals or confiscate them if necessary. Many are dangerous. Other than firearms, wardens have no equipment to deal with these animals. Several DIF&W staff members spend a great deal of their time dealing with exotic animal issues and problems.

Recognizing these problems several years ago, the legislature ordered up a task force to “consider the effect of the importation and possession of wildlife and the issues of possession and exhibition of wildlife in the State.”

Among the tasks assigned to this group were: developing recommendations for a list of restricted, unrestricted, and banned species; amendments to current permit structures and fees; and the establishment of appropriate penalties for noncompliance with requirements. Findings and recommendations were due back to the legislature by January 14, 2014. But the department was unable to meet that deadline because the issues are complex and the task force needed more time to work on them.

The issues and concerns are certainly serious and complicated. At a task force meeting that I attended, Warden Lieutenant Chris Cloutier reported that two children had been killed recently by a Boa Constrictor in Canada, a snake that requires no permit in Maine.

Jim Connolly, DIF&W’s top professional in charge of both the Fisheries and the Wildlife Divisions, asked the best question at one task force meeting: “What’s a reasonable process including informing people about health issues with each species?”

I still remember another good question Connolly asked a task force meeting: “Should the department be considering any request from anywhere in the world just because somebody wants to have something?” Perhaps this session the legislature will come up with the answer to Jim’s question.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.