EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part of a two-part article. Part 2 will appear in tomorrow’s edition.
BOSTON — On the heels of the recent forum in Orange on the state’s proposal to place timber rattlesnakes on Mt. Zion island at the Quabbin Reservoir, Dr. Tom French, of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife was asked several follow-up questions by the Athol Daily News.
State Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) and State Rep. Susannah Whipps Lee (R-Athol) were also given the opportunity to comment. Gobi stated, “I am planning to hold an oversight hearing at the State House as I have a number of legislative colleagues whose constituents also have questions and concerns. That hearing will be held late spring.”
“Increasing public and conservation land holdings in prime timber rattlesnake habitats continues to be an important conservation strategy for this species. In addition to land protection, educating the public and residents local to timber rattlesnake populations with biologically accurate information remains important; highlighting the importance of timber rattlesnakes as beneficial native ‘top predators’ of the deciduous forest communities is key.”
“Along with having a high level of protection of dens and basking sites, maintaining a level of secrecy about their locations is important for restricting human access to key habitat features in order to avoid disturbing and stressing snakes. Additionally, there continues to be a need to limit and eliminate trails on public lands near dens and basking areas and implement seasonal road closures in areas of high vehicle-caused mortality.”
A portion of the questions and responses follows (the remainder will appear in tomorrow’s edition):
ADN: It is reported by DFW there are five populations in the state. A level of secrecy is desired, but how many acres of public and conservation land holdings have been added to current habitats to protect the snakes in places where they have been surviving since Colonial times?
Dr. French: The total acreage of potential timber rattlesnake habitat owned and managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the DFW in Massachusetts is about 14,518 acres. Most of this potential habitat is part of two DCR state reservations, two DCR state forests, and three DFW wildlife management areas. Unfortunately, most of this potential habitat is no longer actually occupied because of continuing declines of the species. The greatest portion of this land was summer foraging habitat, including areas that are at the outer limits of the summer dispersal of adult males where the density is very sparse, the period of occupation is very short, and the presence of a snake does not occur every year. So, this is the maximum potential habitat ever used, even for a short time. Although trails are occasionally re-routed, and sections may be closed for many environmental reasons, including avoidance of state-listed rare species, none of this property has been restricted to public access. Many years of managing these lands has shown that the presence of copperheads and rattlesnakes is not a measurable public safety issue. Keep in mind that a large portion of the Appalachian Trail from southwestern Massachusetts all the way to north Georgia is excellent timber rattlesnake habitat with tens of thousands of hikers and many thousands of rattlesnakes sharing the same ridges.
ADN: Is there any additional habitat where they are now that can be used for the placement of the project’s Rhode Island raised snakes?
Dr. French: The six juvenile snakes currently being head-started can always be released back into the Massachusetts population from which they came from. However, there are no other locations in Massachusetts that are already restricted from public access, are large enough to support an entire self-sustaining population for perpetuity, and have the relatively rare landscape feature that is essential for rattlesnakes to survive the winter. Remember, that these snakes being raised in Rhode Island came from our own Massachusetts populations.
ADN: It is stated “there continues to be a need to limit and eliminate trails on public lands near dens and basking areas and implement seasonal road closures in areas of high vehicle-caused mortality.” Beginning with the Blue Hills snake population and touching on the other population sites, how many or how much of the trails in those areas have been limited or eliminated on public lands?
Dr. French: One of the park roads in the Blue Hills is responsible for more timber rattlesnake deaths than any other road in the state. This is a DCR road rather than a DOT road, so it was built as a low-use parkway and was historically closed each night, mostly for park security, but also to protect the snakes which are most often killed after dark. These evening road closures have periodically been reinstituted, but not yet as a consistent policy. While rattlesnakes are also occasionally killed on other roadways, Chickatawbut Road is the only one proposed for any closures, and only after dark.
One trail in the Blue Hills has been closed in recent years that passed right across a traditional timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead basking area and nursery site, and had a history of unlawful mountain bike use. This trail had been created ad hoc by the public and had never been planned, but did eventually make it onto the hiking trail map. This trail was officially closed by DCR in 2015 and was considered unnecessary because of the high density of trails in that part of the park, including very nearby parallel trails just north and just south of this one. There is a second short trail spur in the Holyoke range that is also being closed for similar reasons. This trail spur is on private property. It was created without the owner’s permission and it goes from a larger unauthorized trail which is not being closed, to a traditional timber rattlesnake nursery site where the snakes have frequently been disturbed. Another section of trail in the Holyoke Range has been re-routed around a traditional northern copperhead nursery area. Of course, for rare plants and other state-listed species, trails are routinely re-routed in order to avoid harm.
ADN: It is the DFW’s assertion the Quabbin project should not come down to a popularity vote and the law is on the side of the DFW, and the purpose is to protect the snakes from human contact. Given the latter point, have any significant restrictions been set in place on the other public sites with regard to public access and vehicular traffic? If not, why?
Dr. French: The conservation of state-listed imperiled species is an established legal responsibility and public policy. The ecological value of each species is the same, and the state wildlife agency’s mission is to conserve all of our native species whether they are popular or not. Our management decisions need to be science driven. In the case of the plan to establish a population of timber rattlesnakes on Mt. Zion island at Quabbin Reservoir in order to have a population that can be protected from the public, the science is clear. Mt. Zion is large enough to support a self-sustaining population of timber rattlesnake with the snake’s annual movement cycle anchored to the boulder field on the north end of the island for winter hibernation. While there have been numerous scenarios put forth to explain how these snakes will leave the island, grow in numbers, and bite hikers, these scenarios are inconsistent with the scientific facts. The facts support MassWildlife’s original determination that this project will provide significant added security to ensure timber rattlesnakes do not disappear from Massachusetts, by allowing a population to exist in a location that the public is already not allowed to go, and while presenting no impact to the public either in regards to safety or public access.
ADN: Maps of the Blue Hills area and Mt. Tom area do not indicate denning sites, nor is information provided to advise the public of the possible contact with rattlesnakes. In your opinion, should there be?
Dr. French: Trailhead signs in portions of the Blue Hills inform hikers that they may encounter venomous snakes on the trail and warns them that it is unlawful to harm one. Off and on, over time, similar signs have been placed at trail heads on Mt. Tom. These signs are intended to guarantee that all hikers know it is a criminal offense to harm a timber rattlesnake or a northern copperhead. It is not necessary to place signs for the purpose of public safety, since the risk of being bitten is already several decimal points to the right of zero. The Blue Hills alone hosts over 200,000 visitors a year and for at least the past 50 years, for which there are good data, there has not been a single bite from a rattlesnake. The locations of den sites would definitely not be published since the timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead are the only endangered species in Massachusetts for which deliberate persecution and killing plays a significant role in their endangerment.
The ADN has been advised that a petition seeking signatures for the purpose of stopping the placement of rattlesnakes on Mt. Zion and ensuring DCR accountability to taxpayers has been started online. It can be accessed at Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Colorhttps://goo.gl/1UvwHg.
It has also been determined there is an online petition in support of the project, which can be accessed at Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Colorhttps://goo.gl/cZH1Pe.
As of the writing of this article, the anti-snake project petition had 750 supporters, while the pro-project petition had 1,000.
Dr. French presented snake plan to advisory committee in 2013
By BRIAN GELINAS
Athol Daily News
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second part of a two-part article. Part 1 appeared in Friday’s edition.
BOSTON — On the heels of the recent forum in Orange on the state’s proposal to place timber rattlesnakes on Mt. Zion island at the Quabbin Reservoir, Dr. Tom French, of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, was asked several follow-up questions by the Athol Daily News.
A portion of those questions and responses appeared in Friday’s edition. Following are
the remaining questions and responses:
ADN: J.R. Greene, a member of the Quabbin Watershed Advisory Council, went on record with the ADN to say to the best of his knowledge the QWAC had not been advised of the project, which DFW stated has been being formulated for at least two years, until only recently when media outlets made it public. However, at the [recent] forum, you stated all agencies listed in your presentation were aware. It has also been said by another contact person that to date the DFW had yet to brief and gain the support of the Water Supply Protection Trust or QWAC. If this has not occurred, why? Also, if the project is two years in the making, why did DFW wait until now to hold a public informational meeting? Is the possible reason because of the desire to maintain secrecy? And in not holding a hearing until now, could it be implied that the popularity factor was actually taken into consideration, knowing the idea likely would be unpopular with locals?
Dr. French: At the public forum, as I assume you heard, I stated that the project had been described to the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Advisory Committee in late 2013, and to the Fisheries and Wildlife Board in early 2014. I gave both of these presentations. I also stated that it is my understanding that the project was mentioned informally by Department of Conservation and Recreation staff in at least two Water Supply Protection Trust meetings, but was not taken up as an agenda item. Individual Quabbin Watershed Advisory Council members have said that they remember DCR staff mentioning the project informally, but that they never discussed it as an agenda item. DCR staff attend these meetings, but I do not. MassWildlife’s two groups believed this project has significant conservation value. They also agreed that it created no impact to the public, since the biological requirements of the snakes will confine them to an island already closed to the public, and that there would be no need to alter any existing public access policy. No significant policy concerns were identified.
It has been my understanding that DCR’s informal conversations with individual members of their two groups had similar reactions. However, as a result of the recent public interest, I have heard that both groups plan to discuss this project as a formal agenda item at upcoming meetings. When this project has come up, it has been openly discussed. The fact that the project had not yet been formally discussed by either the QWAC or the Water Supply Protection Trust is not particularly surprising, since the expected initiation of the project is still over a year away, at the earliest. It is my understanding that the viral explosion of interest came as the result of someone who was not aware of the project learning about it from a member of the Water Supply Protection Trust, and then broadly disseminating his opposition to the project along with inaccurate predictions of danger to the public, to a number of others, including the ADN. Once your first article was published, the story quickly spread, but unfortunately accumulated more misinformation along the way.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The QWAC is meeting Monday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m., at the Quabbin Visitors Center in Belchertown, with the rattlesnake project as an agenda item.
ADN: Several citizens in attendance at the forum who do not support the project have advised the paper that they tried several times to be recognized to speak, but that the point person with the mic went more to those persons in attendance who it was known were supportive of the project. One gentleman, Mike Krunklevich of Orange, said he was able to speak once but when he raised his hand to speak a second time he was never recognized, and he stated a woman near him was routinely bypassed and never had an opportunity to speak. Was there a plan to “select” a larger number of supportive speakers in order to imply a larger support for the project?
Dr. French: The person who walked the mic around the room was Marion Larson, MassWildlife’s Chief of Information and Education. From my perspective at the front of the room, I did not see any favoritism being shown. Marion used the standard policy for meetings like this to look for people who had not yet spoken to recognize, and allow everyone a chance to speak once before giving people a second, third, or fourth turn at the microphone. There were a number of people who made it very clear that they were opposed to the project, and a few wished to speak multiple times. The fact is that the clear majority of people in the room were supportive. Based on the number of people applauding to numerous statements made by members of the audience either in support of the project or opposed to the project, it appeared that approximately 80 percent were in support, and 20 percent were opposed.
It is particularly interesting that Mike Krunklevich complained about not having a chance to speak. He sat in the front row, aisle seat, and was one of the first people given the mic. Contrary to the instructions to stand in place to speak, he went to the podium and slowly read through about six pages of prepared text. The audience and MassWildlife staff politely allowed him to complete his statement even though much of it was off topic. The woman sitting in the opposite front row, aisle seat, that Mr. Krunklevich mentioned, was given the mic one or two times, and spoke briefly, unrecognized two or three more times. Each had ample opportunity to make statements, and it was clear to everyone in the audience that they did not support the project. There were lots of people who wanted the opportunity to speak, so, as is standard practice, Marion tried to allow everyone to speak once before [going] back to people who had already had a spot at the mic. In the end, I believe that everyone who wanted to make a statement, had the chance to speak at least once.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Krunklevich has advised the ADN he has started a wildlife blog online at wildlifequabbinvalley.wordpress.com.
ADN: J.R. Greene also raised a point in [the] ADN article that [should have] further follow-up. That being, is there documented evidence or other proof that the snakes do not travel far enough distances to inhabit other areas? While it is likely the snakes at the existing sites would have less of a chance to do that because of the human population density, it seems that it could be possible in a largely wild and remote area such as the Quabbin Reservoir.
Dr. French: At the public forum, I provided the distances that timber rattlesnakes travel broken down by gravid female, adult non-gravid female, and adult male. I also provided a figure for the unusual long-distance dispersal. The longer distances are always done by lone adult males. These data are based on studies of timber rattlesnakes in fairly undisturbed forested habitats, so, if there are any biases, they are in favor of greater distances, rather than shorter ones. John R. Green questioned the sources of my information, so, for the best single source, I would suggest you look at the following publication by Dr. Bill Brown who is a well known timber rattlesnake biologist (Brown, W.S. 1993. Biology, Status, and Management of the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus): A Guide for Conservation. SSAR Herp. Circular No. 22.). This publication provides a good summary. Otherwise, I will need to give you citations of numerous scientific journal articles. While there are new research articles published every year, the natural history data I presented has not changed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Greene, who is also an Athol Public Library trustee, has advised the ADN he has asked the library to shelve a copy of the publication referenced.
ADN: With regard to the RN who brought up the “near miss” non-fatality bites, how is it the DFW, or yourself specifically, were not aware of it before [the forum]? Also, how many non-fatal bites are on record since Colonial times, and what is the protocol for reporting and recording incidents.
Dr. French: Unfortunately, venomous snake bites do not qualify as a “notifiable disease” that states are required to report to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Therefore, hospitals are not required to report or share these cases with anyone. However, they virtually always do contact MassWildlife or the Department of Public Health, since these cases are so rare. Since I do not have enough specific information to track down the case that was mentioned by a member of the audience at the public forum, I cannot confirm if the woman we know about who was bitten by an unidentified venomous snake in Easthampton was the same woman or not. The case we were aware of included a hospital stay, but the bite was determined to be more consistent with the bite of a copperhead rather than a rattlesnake, so was attributed to a copperhead. Bites from copperheads considered non-life-threatening for a healthy person. I have asked the Department of Public Health to see if they can find any evidence for this possible case. Virtually all venomous snake bites in the Northeast become big news since they are so rare, but it is certainly possible that we could miss one.
ADN: The RN also noted that at the time the elderly woman who was bitten in Easthampton went to the hospital, the hospital had no antivenin. Is there a protocol in place to ensure hospitals in areas where snake populations exist have the proper antivenin on hand in the event of a bite? Will antivenin be on hand at the Quabbin Visitors Center in case of an emergency?
Dr. French: The modern antivenin drug product for North American pit vipers is CroFab®. Since the shelf life of this drug is only two-and-a-half years, the standard operating procedure for hospitals is for the drug to only be stocked by the larger hospitals. In New England, antivenin is usually held in stock in Boston, Springfield, Hartford and Providence. Even at these major hospitals, nearly all of this drug eventually expires and is discarded, rather than used. This is obviously because of the extreme rarity of venomous snake bite[s] in the Northeast. When a bite does occur, patients are either transported to a larger hospital or a supply of CroFab® is sent to the hospital that needs it. While anyone bitten by a venomous snake should seek immediate attention, and the initial affects begin right after the bite, the swelling and progression of symptoms from a copperhead or rattlesnake bite extend over a much longer period of time, allow[ing] for the delivery of antivenin from a different hospital. I have been peripherally involved in at least six venomous snake bites, all relating to someone unlawfully keeping a venomous snake as a pet, or unlawfully capturing one in the wild. Access to antivenin was not a problem in any of these cases. This is not a drug that could be kept and administered at the Quabbin Visitor’s Center. This would be completely inappropriate.
ADN: Finally, there seems to be a contradiction between the two “management recommendations” paragraphs in that in the first there is a desire to educate the public, but in the second it is stated there needs to be secrecy to protect the snake populations. How do you resolve this contradiction?
Dr. French: The two management recommendations to educate the public about endangered timber rattlesnakes, and to keep the locations of timber rattlesnake den sites secret are not at all contradictory. The two native venomous snakes in Massachusetts, the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead, are the only two state-listed species for which deliberate killing is a significant cause of their endangerment. So, it is important that the locations that they depend on for hibernation not be widely know[n]. To date, the fact that [it] is a serious criminal offense to harm one has not been an adequate disincentive. This makes it even more important to educate the public so that they are aware that timber rattlesnakes are listed as endangered, they are legally protected, they are a native species, and that they do not pose a measurable threat to the safety of hikers and other visitors to state lands. The [submitted] DCR flier is one example of this educational effort. Concerns that site-specific information from the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Database could be used to destroy or exploit listed species or their habitats was the reason that these data were excluded from the state public records law.
Two other follow-up questions were asked after the responses above were received. No reply has been received as of the writing of this article. Those questions were:
Greene noted a “snake researcher” was bitten by a rattlesnake in Sheffield in July 2009, and there was an article in the Berkshire Eagle on the incident. Are you aware of this incident?
A contact with one of the organizations mentioned above has said it was stated at a meeting of that organization by a representative of the DFW that the breeding of rattlers is for other existing denning sites and “extras” will be seeded on Mt. Zion, and questioned why start a colony where they do not now exist? The contact also suggested the Mt. Zion placement is just an experiment. Comments?
They are lying to us. This “remote island” is not as secure and remote as they would have us believe. Mount Zion “island” has a causeway which is a road from the “island” to the mainland.
If you could ask the question “What would happen if we did not put Timber Rattlers in the Quabbin?” and then forensically trace the money trail you might find that grant money and govt jobs are at stake here with absolutely no concern for the the safety of the people.
Ret. Brig. Gen. Meehan, Water supply protection trustee, weighs in on Quabbin snake proposal
By BRIAN GELINAS
Athol Daily News
BELCHERTOWN — Retired Brigadier Gen. William Meehan, of Athol, has weighed in on the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s plan to place endangered timber rattlesnakes on Mt. Zion Island at the Quabbin Reservoir.
Meehan is trustee of the Water Supply Protection Trust, representing the Quabbin Fishermen’s Association and the North Worcester County Quabbin Anglers Association.
In an email communication with the Athol Daily News, State Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), State Rep. Susannah Whipps Lee (R-Athol), and other state officials and outdoor enthusiasts, Meehan writes, in part: “This may be an exercise in futility (admitted lengthy), but I am going to exercise my right and responsibility as a trustee. Fred (Laskey), you cautioned us last we met to avoid creating a perception that this snake project is another example of ‘Boston’ exerting its will over the people of central Massachusetts. That is exactly what this experiment is! If you/we let this project proceed as planned, your legacy is the creation of an island of pit vipers in the Quabbin because DFW and [the] Department of Conservation and Recreation have failed to do their jobs — stop the killing of snakes in their current habitats.”
Laskey is the executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
Meehan continued, “Here is my analysis, developed from the recent Orange DFW educational forum, the Quabbin Watershed Advisory Committee (QWAC) meeting and PR from Dr. [Tom] French. Public discourse thus far has been pro and con the snake fix, specifically at Mt. Zion, with substantial facts about timber rattlers and their nature. The problem to be fixed is stated as being a declining population of rattlers in their current five habitats/locations where they have been for two or three centuries, and the chief cause of mortality is interaction with people (road kill, bikers, hikers and the like). The only solution given is to put them somewhere to protect them from people — on an isolated ‘island’ in Quabbin.
“Timber rattlers have been on ‘endangered’ status in Massachusetts for 37 years, with a law saying that to disturb or kill them is a criminal offense. Also, [the] DFW fact sheet states that management responsibility ‘continues to be a need to eliminate trails on public lands near dens and basking areas and implement seasonal road closures in areas of vehicle caused mortality.’ The law seems to be ineffective as a deterrent; killing goes on and few people are brought to trial, and Dr. French confirmed at the QWAC meeting that DFW and DCR need to do a better job of protecting these snakes on roads and trail[s] on public lands (more than 14,000 acres).
“To address the problem, if I recall correctly, Dr. French, in DFW, wrote up a grant request in 2013 which was supported by the National Heritage and Endangered Species Committee and approved by the Fisheries and Wildlife Board in 2014. The several regional states with ‘endangered’ timber rattlers were awarded $500,000 to address the matter. From its origin until recently in 2016, there was no public discourse on the problem, or its solution, until after [the] release of notes between a trustee on the WSPT and a member [of the] DCR Water Supply Policy Office. There may have been public meetings or hearings by DFW with little, if any, prior public knowledge or interest.
“There is a petition working online originated by a lady in Pennsylvania who breeds reptiles as pets for sale, and has accumulated hundreds of supporters from across the U.S. and around the world favoring the Mt. Zion project. Of note, Pennsylvania has an open season to hunt timber rattlers with [a] permit and among some people there timber rattlers are considered a delicacy to consume. A similar petition is online opposing the project.
“From [the] observations of this writer at the two recent meetings, the audiences were 50/50 pro and con. Amongst the pros were local landowners, concerned citizen[s] for [the] survival of the species, and professionals on such matters, including a gentleman who raises rattlers in New Hampshire, a Massachusetts Aquarium representative, a hiker on Mt. Tom, and a gentleman from Armenia who lived and enjoyed recreation among poisonous snakes at home. Among [the] cons were landowners concerned for possible declining property values approximate to Quabbin and fear of snakes approaching their properties; folks concerned for snakes exiting the ‘island’ in the out years and interacting with shore fishermen, bikers and hikers; and many upset that the project has been under way for several years and that populating Mt. Zion with rattlers is a fait accompli without an opportunity for earlier discourse. Amongst the naysayers was a strong sentiment to fix the problem in the 14,000 acres where they have survived for hundreds of years, rather than establish a den of timber rattlers where they don’t now exist.
“Still unknown is the extent of the problem.”
A fait accompli is defined as “a thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept.”
Meehan also posed the following questions about timber rattlesnakes and the state proposal:
“• How many did we have say five years ago and how many are killed and where each year?
“• What has been done by DFW and DCR to curb mortality at it[s] origin?
“• Dr. French said recently that re-populating tests, similar to the Mt. Zion initiative, have been proven successful; where and how many snakes have been included in the study. Could this work for the long term?
“• What do we know of the grant application as it pertains specifically to Massachusetts?
“• Money committed and to do what?
“• Who approved it and was there any public input?
“• What was DCR’s specific involvement at the onset, and why wasn’t the QWAC and Trust included in the process?
“• Was Mt. Zion a specific settlement site, and with what understandings?
“• What alternatives were considered other than Mt. Zion, and why were they abandoned or set aside? Are there possible den sites to populate in the five current habitats (14,000 acres) where DFW and DCR could protect the snakes from humans?”
The questions above have been sent by the ADN to Dr. French for his consideration.
In discussing the science behind the proposal, Meehan said, “DFW says ‘no measurable risk’ [and] snake[s] have no reason to leave the island habitat. Studies have shown they won’t travel more than 4.5 miles from their winter den site (the island is less than 4 miles in length with plenty of food).
“They must return before winter or they will die.
“For the first four years the snakes will have transmitters embedded so they can be tracked and brought back. If they try to cross water, the eagles will get them.
“No deaths from snake bites since Colonial times.
“• From the Mt. Zion proposed new hibernacula (den site) it is only approximately 0.5 miles to the shore line to the east, and they are excellent swimmers.
“• Timber rattlers can live 30 to 40 years. When the transmitters are removed after four years there is no way to track them, or their offspring born on the island.
“• No registry of snake bites in Massachusetts, thus numbers of bites are unknown.
“• Limited communications (cell phone links) in the Quabbin in the event of a bite.
“• Antivenin is costly and has a limited storage life, thus only major hospitals store it.
“Possible impacts (real or perceived):
“• Tourism to Quabbin watershed [will be] diminished by folks wanting to avoid interaction with snakes.
“• Fear among the region’s residents for poisonous snakes being introduced where they don’t now exist.
“• Fear that the Quabbin will be closed for recreation after the first snake bite.
“• Economic impact on small businesses which rely on tourists, hikers, bikers and fishermen who will avoid ‘Snake Island.’
“• Perpetuation of we/they sentiment among central Massachusetts resident[s].
“• They uprooted people and towns for their water supply. Now they want to populate one of the remaining pieces of land above water level with pit vipers.
“• The Boston establishment is at work again. The project was approved two to three years ago by the Nation Heritage and Endangered Species Committee, followed by the Fisheries and Wildlife Board with no apparent public input. This was followed by the governor stating his concurrence with project before the first formal presentation to folks in central Massachusetts affected by the plan, the QWAC, and the Trust.
“In conclusion, I am angry that this project has been under way for three years and we (the folks in central Massachusetts) have just now been apprised of the solution.
“I am angry that Massachusetts governmental agencies and committees have been involved in this for years and they have not formally consulted with nor informed two principal activities involved with watershed affairs (QWAC was not briefed until March 14, and the Water Supply Protection Trust is not planned to be briefed until May 26).
“I am angry that the presentations thus far only cover the solution, with a passing comment that it is not a fait accompli, and no significant discussion of the alternatives. One of which, Dr. French said, was to re-populate current sites. Dr. French and his boss, Director Jack Buckley, have said they are not making decisions on popularity. A decision is to be made based on survival of the species.
“I am angry that the ‘establishment’ is prepared to implement its solution with no definitive plan from DFW or DCR to stop the killing of rattlers in their current habitats.
“We trustees are the caretakers of wonderful natural and manmade resources of the Commonwealth, and we should not allow the watersheds to become a laboratory for an experiment because several state agencies have failed and are failing to fulfill their responsibilities. DFW should use its grant to start/continue re-populating current habitats and concurrently develop and implement a plan with active DCR involvement to terminate or decrease mortality in the sites where timber rattlesnakes have survived for centuries.”
Regarding the recent QWAC vote on the proposal, taken March 14, Meehan notes it was five in favor, two opposed and three abstained. “No ‘slam dunk.’ Half of the QWAC members were either opposed or unsure,” he said.
In response to Meehan’s email, Gobi wrote, in part: “I appreciate your heartfelt and well reasoned questions and concerns. I share many of the same. My committee is planning an oversight hearing later this spring and hopefully all your questions and concerns, as well as those of many of my legislative colleagues, will be addressed.
This is a work of fiction; it could not have happened this way, in this great State of Massachusetts, could it? I used eagles in this writing, but you could substitute loons, rattlesnakes, or soon to be endangered whitetail deer. The same corrupt bureaucratic process is used.
A short synopsis of the Quabbin eagle will be discussed in this writing.
“The Quabbin Reservoir is the site of Mass. Wildlife’s well known and successful American Bald Eagle restorationproject.” Taken from Energy and Environmental Affairs (yet another sub-bureaucracy under the DCR) (DCR) publication.
I was somewhat surprised when talking to a political person that seemed to have a strong connection with the great outdoors and I mentioned well-fare eagles. She was taken aback as I explained the reality of what happens when man endeavors to fix or help nature (play God as NHES does).
Enter DCR (department of conservation and recreation) or more specifically NHES (Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program) one of the many small cancers in the DCR, the main cancer! This main cancer was conceived by then Governor Mitt Romney in 2003. Governor Romney was positioning himself for a run for the president. of the USA, and accumulated many political pay-back debts because of his ambitions. In this massive bureaucracy, DCR, you could hide everyone’s brother-in-law, sister-in-law, or kids. You can hide probably half the population of Massachusetts inside the DCR but not the massive fleet of white pick-up trucks with DCR printed on them visible at all convenience stores, donut shops etc.
.. The philosophy seems to be we can make as many new sub-bureaucracies, NHES, etc. As long as we hire some professional grant writers (called professional thieves in some circles). If it looks like all these sub-bureaucracies are funded by grants the public will go along with it, the naive public thinks grant money is free money. Governor Romney didn’t have time to govern Massachusetts, his time was directed toward Washington, D.C., so the Peter principle took over and spread like wildfire.
Most project managers (Peter principle) take the defensive upon hearing any negative comments about their specific project, especially financial questions. It annoys me when they reply I received a grant to clone dinosaurs to restock in Quabbin. It is said in the tone that the grant money just fell out of the big bank in the sky with a sticky note attached saying “here is some free money” go clone a dinosaur and I think they expect the laymen to believe this. Some of these project managers are so far around the bend (approaching becoming a zealot) they probably believe the money is free. Ultimately the grant money comes from the bottom tier, us in the bottom tier have many names such as the workingman, peasants, woodchucks, and proletariat. All wealth is created by the bottom tier on the economic ladder and gathered by the people on the top rung of the economic ladder. We are the people (bottom tier) that have to fill the grant money bank in the sky (it is called taxes when they are filling the grant bank) bank in the sky by design of the wealthy, nobleman, politicians, and bourgeoisie. We all know that we are not smart enough to decide how to spend ourmoney, that’s why we have politicians. We have established that grant money is not free it comes from the workingman in this case and probably always will. Let’s take an example; Bill Gates made incalculable money selling windows to the workingmen around the world. Now he is a philanthropist giving grants here there and everywhere.
Back to the eagle restoration project. In the beginning everything goes smoothly, plenty of grant money for all of the fat cats at the top and most likely some of the grant money is actually used on the project. As time goes on grant money is running low and the project manager’s boss probably educated in another field; Let’s say he or she has a degree in computer science. (Who probably is a politician appointed by another politician possibly the governor) as a political payback. The project manager’s boss is a, Peter principle person and knows very little about eagles. Comes down hard on project manager and says we have to finish up this project quickly grant money is almost gone. Let us build some loon lodges and be done with it. The project manager can’t say it rained for four weeks and he couldn’t do field work, or say the thousand dollars he was given from five-million-dollar grant wasn’t enough to do the actual project. The four million and change (from five million grant) was used up by the fat cats in Boston and labeled administrative costs with little or no transparency and accountability. Ladies and gentlemen this is how the well-fare eagles were created.
Grant money gone, project manager gone, eagles left to fend for themselves. They follow fishing boats looking for a free meal and oftentimes a fisherman will give them a fish (everyone wants to see an eagle close up). The eagles have evolved to be quite fussy what species of fish they want to eat they now prefer salmonoids to heavily scaled fish such as sunfish or bass. Lake trout is mostly what the fishermen feed eagles at Quabbin. The salmon and trout fishing at Quabbin have been poor for the last two or three years. Most fishermen think it is due to the low smelt population, biologists don’t have a clue. As a result of poor salmon and trout fishing at Quabbin: eagles now fly to Lake Mattawa in Orange for a free meal.
A fisherman told me he was hit in the back by an eagle while he was reeling in a fish at the Quabbin, he wasn’t hurt but it shocked him.
This is what happens when WASP-man gets a guilty conscious and (plays God) tries too alter nature. We end up with well-fare eagles and the fat cats, mostly (WASPS)get richer and fatter.
Didn’t this happen to the indigenous people (Indians), black people, and anyone that is not a WASP (white Anglo-Saxon protestant)?
The irony of this is the state of New Hampshire has an established eagle population, not well-fare eagles, they won’t come near you. This happened all by itself’, N.H. didn’t have to create a dozen bureaucracies and spend untold dollars to make fat cats fatter. Nature abhors a vacuum this is opening statement in biology 101. If the habitat is suitable the eagles will come. The people at NHES (Natural Heritage and Endangered Species) (the people who get to play God) think this is a great success well-fare eagles! These same people probably believe we should build casinos for indigenous people and more jails for the black people. The DCR is just the opposite of wall street, it is so big and infected with the Peter principle, it had to fail.
Let’s cut to the chase this is nothing more than a money grab, scandal, or what ever you want to call it. It is all about money, mostly grant money, from the Governor’s office down.
I am asking State Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) and
State Rep. Susannah Whipps Lee (R-Athol) to take action on all the problems discussed in this writing. Senator and Rep, before you tell me you have no authority in regard to grant money (a major problem), you can hold sub-bureaucracy managers and project managers accountable for every penny of the grant. The sub-bureaucracy managers and project managers have to be held accountable for their fiduciary duty. For sub-bureaucracies like NHES (Natural Heritage and Endangered Species) (the agency that gets to play God) you can legislate them right out of existence. Rep. Lee I spoke with you a couple weeks ago and you said you were busy with the State budgets. All the above is a large part of budget.
I am trying to help you, I am working on an invention that will turn a person’s left ear green if he, or she pockets a slice of grant money. From the governor on down all you will have to look for left side green ear. It should make your job much easier.
For the WASPS with the guilty conscious go find a church. I don’t want you playing with my money to ease your guilt.
The NHES (Natural Heritage and Endangered Species) motto sums it up nicely.
Massachusetts believes it has a mandate to return rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) to its forests. The state has several colonies of rattlesnakes within its borders. One wonders why more are needed. Officials plan to put the rattlesnakes on an island in the Quabbin Reservoir where they will be protected from humans. If they can breed there, the colony can be used to create other rattlesnake colonies throughout Massachusetts. The rattlesnakes will, of course, leave the island by swimming the short distance to the forested mainland and spread throughout southern New England and join us in Rhode Island. Then they will be with us, a venomous snake that has not been part of New England since colonial days. Massachusetts officials say the Endangered Species Act mandates the introduction of a venomous reptile, the rattlesnake, to populated regions of the state. Well, it doesn’t! There is choice! The rattlesnake will encounter humans — and it will strike, bite and poison those who encounter it. Further, the known presence of rattlesnake will diminish the desire of people to enjoy woodlands as they do now, without the threat of being bitten by a rattlesnake. It is not an inspiring experience to come upon a rattlesnake while enjoying a walk in the woodlands. In my career as a wildlife ecologist, I observed a wildlife experiment at the University of Massachusetts where the fisher (sometimes called the fisher cat) was released onto an island in Quabbin Reservoir. It was postulated that the fishers would control the overpopulation of the island by porcupines. The fishers killed all the porcupines, all right, but then they left the island. They reached the mainland by traveling over the ice or by swimming. They established populations throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Now, they kill our family cats, eat our dogs and attack us in our backyards. They kill our chickens, ducks and farm geese in the name of a complete New England fauna. It is dangerous to tinker with the introduction of wildlife species long gone from regional fauna. The Canada goose was welcomed until it overtook our golf courses and the wild turkey was admired until it began to attack children and the elderly. The white-tail deer was put on Block Island by choice. Now Block Islanders would like to see the deer gone. There comes a time in our society where the wishes of the few must be called into question. I feel certain that 99 percent of the New Englanders who use our forests would vote against the addition of a venomous snake to our forests and parklands. John J. Kupa, of North Kingstown, an occasional contributor, is an emeritus professor at the University of Rhode Island.
Hi, Thanks DCR for inviting the public and thank you for posting the meeting. I’d very much like to attend, however I may have another appointment—Go Trump. Please present my comment and argument at the meeting if you can.
Let me first summarize both party’s positions regarding to current debate of the timber rattlesnakes. The supporters of this project want to expand timber rattlesnakes otherwise a relatively common and widely distributed species at and beyond its current northern boundary of its natural habitat; and they believe they can contain any danger posted to the public; we disagree firmly. We believe climate changes or the global warming along with the endangered statute the State should help it survive or expand. We should not use public resources to play with—it sounds unnecessary and wasteful. We disagree firmly. We believe the safety or well being of the public is put in danger. The snake does swim, the monitoring tags may fall off or be damaged or cease to function, and the snakes will reproduce at the island, how to monitor hatchlings? How to prevent them from spreading in the future? Etc. So we have two options, either kill the project or let it move forward and many of us have made it known our wanting to kill the project and many arguments have been posted on this site and others.
The public does need a contingency plan or insurance policy such as;
(1) Within 20 miles range of the Quabbin were currently no timber rattlesnakes are found, when an incident involving timber rattlesnakes occurs, The State of Massachusetts agrees to promptly pay all damages to the victims, including persons, animals, and properties, with loss of lives, loss of wages, loss of ability to make a living, and any losses associated with the incident;
(2) The State of Massachusetts agrees to post and maintain a bond of $10B from which all claims are to be paid;
(3) Automatic waivers of personal immunity for those responsible for this project against civil and criminal litigations filed by victim (s)
Why the third term is important in the plan-the statues of their public employment may insulate from the legal and financial liabilities and this type of protection needs to be torn apart. These responsible parties include those who manage and are responsible for the project, are directly involved in, and those politicians who approve and sign on the project. Since they are so sure that no harm will be done to the public despite of all data and evidence we say otherwise, they should have no problems to agree with this term, do they?
With due respects,
FILE– In this September 2008 handout file photograph from the Mass. Div. of Wildlife and Fisheries, a timber rattlesnake rests in a coil on a rock in Western Massachusetts. A plan by the state to start a colony of venomous timber rattlesnakes on an off-limits island in Massachusetts largest drinking water supply is under fire. (Bill Byrne/The Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife via AP)
Opinions rattlesnakes Daily Hampshire Gazette – Established 1786
By CHRIS CURTIS
For the Gazette
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
ORANGE — Some people who frequent the Quabbin Reservoir view with suspicion the state’s proposal to stock an island there with endangered rattlesnakes.
The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife proposal calls for the breeding and re-introduction of 150 timber rattlesnakes to an as-yet unnamed large island in the Quabbin Reservoir. The state lists the snakes as endangered in Massachusetts due to traditional persecution and loss of habitat.
Rodney Flagg, owner of Flagg’s Fly and Tackle in Orange, said his customers have been all fired up about this for weeks.
“Crazy. I’ve been hearing more about rattlesnakes lately,” he laughed. Flagg said there have always been timber rattlesnakes around here, but at 78 he’s spent half his life in the New England woods hunting, fishing, trapping and guiding and has never seen one. The prevailing feeling among his customers is that the state is trying to keep people away from the reservoir, Flagg said.
Rumors of cameras going up around the reservoir give him the same uneasy feeling, and the same concerns about expenses.
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation is “lucky I ain’t the governor; they’d all be looking for a job tomorrow,” Flagg said.
Robert May Sr. of Athol lives near the Quabbin and has fished it for 52 years. May said he plans to start doing some research, but he isn’t familiar with the habits of timber rattlesnakes.
“Snakes swim and there’s an awful lot of people that walk the Quabbin during the off-season, including myself for exercise,” he said.
He expects the snakes would eventually migrate from the island, at which point he would be concerned for the many who walk and bird-watch there. For the moment, though, he has only seen rattlesnakes on television and wants to learn more.
On the other hand, May said there was a rumor going around two years ago in the fishing community that the Department of Conservation and Recreation had released rattlesnakes, and he shares the general distrust of the state’s intentions. “If they had their way they wouldn’t let us down at all,” May said. “Since (the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority) took over, it’s plain hell.”
Several agencies and committees have authority over the Quabbin. Retired Brig. Gen. William Meehan II of Athol is one of five trustees on the Water Supply Protection Trust, created by former state Sen. Stephen Brewer. The trust also includes representatives from environmental affairs, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority and its advisory board, as well as a local historical representative and Meehan who represents the two nonprofit fishing associations concerned with the Quabbin. Meehan said the land and islands of the Quabbin are the trust’s jurisdiction, working with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the MWRA.
That any of these organizations have any interest in sealing off the Quabbin to recreational use is untrue, he said.
“There is no truth, no truth at all, to any effort on the part of any organization, establishment with authority, to close the watersheds, not just the Quabbin but any other for recreational use,” Meehan said.
Meehan said he fought successfully to open the Quabbin to fishing seven days a week during the season. He also takes responsibility for starting what has become the avalanche of snake conversation by spreading the word to the groups he represents, and he’s not thrilled with the resulting attention.
“This thing is like pole-vaulting over a mouse turd. There’s some people who want to make it of some monumental interest that is not deserving of the attention that it’s getting,” Meehan said, adding he had no problem with the pilot program when he heard of it.
“They’re putting them on an island, and the islands are off-limits. You want to get your ass bit by a snake, then step on the island,” he said. “I am an environmentalist. I do a lot of hunting and a lot of fishing, and we have an obligation to protect endangered species, and this is one of them.”
The proposal is supported by wildlife biologist Thomas French of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, and Meehan said he trusts the judgment of the experts relative to the danger to the human population.
Meehan said cameras are going up around the Quabbin, but only to monitor those areas that are off-limits, primarily to stop mountain bikers from damaging the woods and creating illegal trails. He stresses that this is not part of a plan to cut access, and cameras are not to be aimed at legal users.
“I won’t let us do anything dumb. I won’t let anybody, within my ability to do so, restrict us from having complete recreational access, within reason,” he said.
To Meehan, residents have as much power as they could want in the ultimate decision, as constituents with the power to move their legislators to block the plan. He hopes residents will be reasonable and listen to the experts.
Bobby Curley, president of the North Quabbin Trails Association, and Peter Mallett, founder of the Millers River Fishermen’s Association, are organizing a public forum on the topic at 6 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Trails Association headquarters inside the Orange Innovation Center at 131 West Main St.
Curley is ambivalent about the proposal. Mallett is not concerned about the direct threat possibly posed by the snakes, but believes the known presence of an endangered species could imperil access.
“My main thing is they’ve been wanting to shut the Quabbin down for people for years, and what a perfect opportunity,” Mallett said.
Mallett added that he believes the snakes are here anyway, they just aren’t reported by the people who find them. The people who find them, he said, giving the example of a friend’s discovery during a basement renovation, kill them out of fear for pets and children and keep quiet to avoid legal complications.
I just finished reading your rebuttal. I am in favor of the project, and I completely agree with your critique of the PR campaign put forth by the state. In my opinion, they really dropped the ball by not having a better plan ready at hand for the most important stage, gaining acceptance and trust from the public. I have seen this before, and no one likes to be patronized. Unbelievable. It is almost as if they expected no objections. Very condescending.
So, going in with that attitude, misstatements if not outright lies were made. And some backpedaling has occurred out of necessity. I think he actually said they couldn’t swim, in an earlier interview. That got corrected. Unfortunately the arrogance has pushed away the public, and gaining trust is now going to be that much harder. I can’t believe what a blunder that was. Selling the idea was already going to be an uphill battle.