BOSTON — A group of lawmakers is asking state officials to delay implementing the so-called “Rattlesnake Island” plan until after a legislative hearing.
“There’s just a lot of questions and a lot of concern from people about what’s involved in putting venomous snakes in a new habitat,” said State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, who circulated a letter to Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matt Beaton.
The state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife crafted a plan to save endangered Timber Rattlesnakes by breeding them in a zoo, then releasing around 10 snakes a year into Mount Zion, a Quabbin Reservoir island that is closed to the public. But since the snakes are venomous, local residents have raised concerns about the safety of the proposal. Informational meetings have attracted hundreds of people. While supporters say the island is isolated enough to contain the rattlesnakes, people worry that the snakes will swim off the island and bite hikers in other parts of the Quabbin and local residents.
The letter to Beaton was signed by Lesser, who chairs the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development; State Sen. Ann Gobi, D-Spencer, who chairs the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture; State Rep. Thomas Petrolati, D-Ludlow; and State Rep. Todd Smola, R-Warren.
With a controversial plan to populate Mount Zion in the Quabbin Reservoir with the endangered Timber Rattlesnake attracting the public’s attention, we look at the list of all 15 reptile species that are considered most in danger of extinction in the Bay State.
The lawmakers point out that the Quabbin Reservoir is a popular recreational and tourist destination. “Consequently, there are a significant number of unanswered questions regarding the risks this plan will pose to the public, including the rattlesnakes’ ability to leave the contained area and the potential threat they pose to hikers, fishermen, sportsmen and others utilizing this precious natural resource, in addition to nearby residents,” they wrote.
They asked Beaton to delay any action on the plan to introduce the snakes until after an oversight hearing by the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in May.
“There’s just a lot of questions … about what’s involved in putting venomous snakes in a new habitat.”
A spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said the administration looks forward to working with members of the legislative committee.
Under the current proposal, the rattlesnakes would not begin to be introduced to the island until the spring of 2017. But other preparatory work may be done before then.
Lesser said the goal is to freeze the plan until the state can answer the questions area residents have raised. “Although that specific island does not have people on it, it’s very close to popular recreational area and to places where people do live,” Lesser said. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions about how is this going to play out, what would happen if there was an accident, what kind of precautions would be made. … Our point is this cannot happen without legislative input and public input.”
Gobi said the problem is the Baker administration’s lack of transparency about the proposal. Gobi said she and other legislators learned about the plan from the media. “They’ve never made anything clear to us. It is a real problem,” she said.
The legislative hearing is scheduled for May 10 at 11 a.m. at Athol Town Hall. The public is invited to listen and submit written comments, but testimony will be restricted to invited guests. Gobi said she plans to invite state officials involved in fishers and wildlife, public health and tourism, as well as representatives of fishing groups and other interest groups that have a stake in the issue.
Gobi said she hopes to get answers to a range of questions, ranging from the cost of the plan to whether the state has an adequate supply of anti-venom in case someone is bitten by a snake.
“It’s very difficult for members of Legislature, and me specifically, to try to address a problem when I’ve been left in the dark about what’s going on. It’s not a good way to do business,” Gobi said.
Although the administration has the authority to craft a plan without legislative approval, the Legislature provides funding for the department and can potentially withhold funding if lawmakers are unhappy.
Courtesy of mass live