Louisiana gator farmers get ornery as California’s ban finally goes into effect
A California law that will make alligator-skin boots and purses taboo has Louisiana farmers ornery.
The Bayou State accused California in a lawsuit of trying to “destroy” the lucrative market for American alligator with its ban on the sale of the animals’ skins.
Due to take effect Jan. 1, the ban has already resulted in canceled orders and a steep drop in the price for alligator skins, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Sacramento. Louisiana asked a judge to put the restriction on hold while it challenges it in court.
The alligator skins are just the latest items on California’s hit list. Free plastic grocery bags and complimentary plastic straws in restaurants aren’t allowed. Sales of foie gras and fur are banned. And California also became the first state to prohibit pet stores from selling dogs, cats or rabbits that don’t come from shelters or adoption centers.
California banned the sale of alligator skins decades ago over concerns about animal cruelty and the dwindling number of the animals left in the wild. But for years, lawmakers granted exemptions, and only now are they allowing the ban to take effect.
Louisiana officials say the alligator industry pumps $80 million a year into the state. Trappers collected 15,052 alligator skins in 2017 while farmers harvested 382,039 alligators valued at more than $70 million, including the meat, according to the Louisiana Alligator Advisory Council.
If allowed to stand, the California ban will devastate the industry, state officials say.
“If the California ban is allowed to go into effect — it would destroy the alligator industry and its jobs in Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and California,” Louisiana Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry said in a statement.
The California attorney general’s office didn’t have an immediate comment on the lawsuit, but the state often sets the pattern for others to follow.
“California’s large economy often results in its product standards becoming de facto national standards,” said the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, which filed the lawsuit, citing vehicle emission standards and product labeling standards as examples.
Companies won’t make state-specific products and will instead forgo using alligator altogether, the commission said.
The group claims that California’s ban violates federal laws that allow the sale and importation of alligator skins throughout the country.
American alligators were once threatened by extinction, but after being placed on the endangered species list in 1967, the population rebounded, and in 1979 rules were adopted to allow the export of American alligator hides. The American alligator is now listed as “threatened due to similarity of appearance” to other species throughout its range, according to the lawsuit.
Already, one tannery canceled an order for 600 alligator hides and “one of the world’s largest purchasers” has threatened to quit buying hides entirely, according to the suit.
“Foreign tanners and manufacturers have stated that if California ports are closed to importation of alligator products, it will become too confusing to keep their clients informed of which U.S. ports can or cannot receive alligator products,” the commission claims.
The ban and the accompanying price drop are pushing up the cost of controlling “nuisance” gators, the commission says. The price of hides has fallen so much that Louisiana wildlife officials are now having to pay for removal of nuisance alligators, whereas earlier, trappers would get rid of them for their hides and meat.
Burnson writes for Bloomberg.