Exotic animals list shouldn’t be set in stone

Like some animals, politicians can be very territorial. As West Virginians have learned, that can be counterproductive.

Earlier this year, state legislators approved a measure calling for controls on possession of certain species of animals in the Mountain State. If anything, the measure was long overdue. It was prompted in part by events near Zanesville, Ohio, where a deranged man in 2011 released dozens of dangerous creatures before committing suicide.

Law enforcement officials were forced to kill many of the animals, including lions and tigers, in order to protect the public.

That, along with concern about invasive species, prompted Ohio lawmakers to enact strict limits on what animals can be kept by private owners. The regulations became effective Jan. 1.

Though there has been some resistance to the Buckeye State rules, the list of animals on it seems reasonable.

Here in West Virginia, state officials decided to go it alone, in effect, by drawing up their own list of animals to be controlled. That turned out to be a fiasco. Some common creatures, such as rabbits, were on the list. Others that should be restricted, such as gorillas, were not.

After something of an uproar, West Virginia officials finally decided to do the logical thing. They agreed tentatively to use the list adopted in Ohio.

That should have been the starting point all along. Ohio’s list may not be perfect – it does not include fish species that are of concern, for example – but it already had undergone refinement after a public comment period. Again, it was a good place to begin.

A variety of West Virginia laws, such as those on gas and oil drilling, were drafted after looking at other states’ statutes. That ought to be the policy for any new law being considered in our state.

That said, West Virginia officials should consider the exotic animals list a work in progress. It should be updated from time to time to reflect new concerns – new types of fish being sold at pet stores, for example.

Limits on ownership of certain animals are important, not just for the public’s safety but also to protect our state’s environment, including indigenous creatures and plants. Once the rules are in place, they should be enforced to the letter.