It would seem the biggest barrier to exotic species gaining entry into Montana would be the many miles they have to travel. Instead, it proves to be the state's miles of red tape.
A national pet store chain and a frog breeder petitioned Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) in mid-2009 to allow three exotic wildlife species to be possessed and sold as pets in the state—the Eritrea clawed frog, Cameroon volcano frog and the hermit crab. With the public comment period for the species classification ending Jan. 21, their fate will soon be decided.
The three species' journey has been a long one. After the petitions were submitted, explains FWP commercial wildlife permit manager Tim Feldner, the species went before the agency's Classification Review Committee. The committee—composed of representatives from FWP, the Department of Livestock, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Health and Human Services, and two Montana residents, one involved in the exotic wildlife industry—made a recommendation to the FWP Commission to classify the species as "noncontrolled." The commission made a tentative administrative rule, and then sought public comment. In March, most likely, the commission, after reviewing the roughly 30 public comments, will finalize it, one way or the other.
"I'm encouraged that we're getting these comments," Feldner says. "A lot of them have been, 'No, don't let any exotics in, it will ruin our wildlife.' That's exactly the point. That's why we're here."
The Eritrea clawed frog (Xenopus clivii) is native to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. The Cameroon volcano frog (Xenopus amieti) is native only to the highlands of western Cameroon. There are many species of hermit crabs, which are increasingly sold as pets.
"To completely ban exotics in Montana is impossible," Feldner says. "Walk into any pet store and you will understand why. It is also not necessary, as our function is to make sure that exotics that are allowed for private possession in Montana would not have any impacts on Montana's wildlife, habitat, agriculture or human safety."