Snake colony plan remains slippery for Wildlife board
“We are backing off and looking at all the options,” Joseph Larson, the board’s chairman and chairman of the recently established Rattlesnake Review Group, told the Herald. “We will come out with an assessment of each of the existing sites where snakes are still living and address the kinds of (snake) mortality that occurs at each site.”
The board’s initial proposal to introduce a small colony of snakes to Mount Zion, a 1,300-acre island in the middle of the Quabbin that is off-limits to humans, was met with considerable pushback from area residents rattled by the thought of the rattlers winding up in people’s back yards.
The plan is for young snakes to be raised at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island until they are large enough to avoid being an easy snack for a hawk or an owl, Larson said, and then introduce them to an area where the population can grow.
While saying “all options are being considered,” Larson suggested the Blue Hills, an existing snake habitat, may not be an ideal destination, as setting snakes free in the area in the past has not caused an uptick in the population due to human-induced mortality.
Once widespread across the commonwealth, experts say as few as 200 timber rattlesnakes remain in the state in various sites that now need to be examined further.
“We have a lot of data on those sites but not a lot of discussion because of the way we phrased the proposal to get them onto the island,” Larson said. “None of us anticipated the public reaction and we should have, so we are having to look back.”
Larson said all current natural snake habitats — including the Blue Hills, Holyoke’s Mount Tom and several locations in southern Berkshire County — will be considered as possible sites, but he said the exact locations where endangered species live is not a matter of public record.
“People go out there and poach them or in the case of snakes, they go out to cut off their heads,” Larson said.
The Quabbin Reservoir site is still in the mix, as is the possibility of not introducing any new snakes to the state at all, Larson said, noting the responsibility of his agency is to make sure the species does not go extinct.
The second in a series of public rattlesnake review group meetings is set for Feb. 28 at the town hall in Belchertown, and the group will make a recommendation this spring to the Fisheries and Wildlife Board, who will have the final say.
“We get the power,” Larson said. “And the grief that comes along with it.”