Lesser,lots of questions

quabbin massachusetts island snake

 

Lesser: Lot of questions about rattlesnake plan

 

By BRIAN GELINAS,

ADN Staff Reporter

(June 20, 2016)

 

BOSTON — State Sen. Eric Lesser (D-East Longmeadow) has offered comment in response to the Advocates for Snake Preservation group’s expressed support of the state’s plan to place endangered timber rattlesnakes on Mount Zion Island at the Quabbin Reservoir.

 

Of the Arizona-based ASP’s support, Lesser said Monday, “I certainly respect their opinion…but my feeling is there are still a lot of questions about the plan.”

 

Following a legislative oversight hearing held in Athol earlier this year, Lesser filed a Senate-approved amendment to the proposed fiscal year 2017 budget that would implement a one-year moratorium on the placement of rattlesnakes on the island. It would also call for a study group to be formed to determine the best preservation practices and the group would be required to submit a report to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture by the end of the year.

 

Lesser said there needs to be a pause in the implementation of the plan in order for the study group to adequately hear input from the communities and local officials that would immediately be affected, and to consider the potential impacts to public access to the Quabbin Reservoir watershed. He expressed a concern that even one incident involving a snake bite could lead to further restricted access at the reservoir.

 

Lesser said he respects the science behind the plan, but added there are other factors to consider. Noting his position as chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, he said, “We’ve done quite a lot of work to build up the Quabbin as a four-season attraction…What does it do for marketing if we start a colony of venomous snakes there?”

 

Commenting further on the ASP’s support for the plan, Lesser said “it seems a little odd” and “convenient” for a group from Arizona to take such an interest. “We have to live with the consequences,” he said. “The people in the communities around the Quabbin should have the strongest say.”

 

Lesser’s Senate district includes the towns of East Longmeadow, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow and Wilbraham, and parts of Chicopee and Springfield in Hampden County, and Belchertown and Granby in Hampshire County.

 

Both Lesser and State Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) are calling for more to be done to protect the roughly 200 timber rattlesnakes that comprise colonies at five known denning sites across the state, from the Berkshires to the Blue Hills, before a new site is created at the Quabbin Reservoir.

 

The North Worcester County Quabbin Anglers and the Quabbin Fishermen’s associations have also gone on record in opposition to the plan.

In contrast, Gov. Charlie Baker has expressed his support of the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Mount Zion proposal.

 

State Rep. Susannah Whipps Lee (R-Athol) has said she is withholding comment on the plan until such time as the study group is in place and conducting its review and taking input.

 

The ASP is critical of Lesser’s moratorium proposal and claims many conservation groups and individuals across the state support the Mount Zion rattlesnake proposal.

 

The group is also calling for the legislature’s conference committee to remove Lesser’s amendment from the FY17 budget. The House and Senate appoint three members each to a committee to reconcile any differences between the House and Senate budget proposals. The conference committee offers a final compromise bill to the House and Senate for a final vote of acceptance in each branch.

 

An in-depth article on ASP’s support of the plan appeared on page 1 of the Athol Daily News on Thursday, June 16.

courtesy Athol Dailey News

 

 

anglers opposed

quabbin massachusetts island snake

 

Anglers remain opposed to snake proposal

 

By Brian Gelinas,

ADN Staff Reporter

(June 8, 2016)

 

AREA — The North Worcester County Quabbin Anglers and the Quabbin Fishermen’s associations remain opposed to the state’s plan to place endangered timber rattlesnakes on Mount Zion Island at the Quabbin Reservoir.

 

Ret. Brigadier Gen. William Meehan, of Athol, issued that statement following a June 2 page 1 article in the Athol Daily News reporting on the State Senate’s approval of a fiscal year 2017 budget amendment placing a one-year moratorium on the placement of the snakes. The amendment also calls for the creation of a study group to determine the best practices to protect existing timber rattlesnake populations in the five know denning areas across the state, and requires the group to submit a report to the legislature by year’s end.

 

Meehan made the statement in an email sent to State Sen. Eric Lesser (D-East Longmeadow), who filed the amendment, and State Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. He also forwarded a copy of the email to the ADN.

 

Meehan represents the two fishermen’s associations as a Water Supply Protection Trust trustee. The email was sent in his capacity as their representative.

 

In the email it is noted the two associations support the efforts of Lesser and Gobi, and are in agreement that the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation need to correct the problem at existing dens, where the rattlesnake populations are declining due to a number of factors, before considering locating snakes, headstarted at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, R.I., on Mount Zion.

 

In addition, the email states the two associations believe the study group, which was originally suggested by the state’s Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, should include representatives of the two associations as well as members of the communities and businesses that could potentially be adversely affected by the plan. They also believe that the group should focus on timber rattlesnake survival across the state and not just on the Mount Zion proposal.

 

The email is also critical of Dr. Tom French and answers he has given to questions regarding the proposal. French is heading the project, and is assistant director of the DFW’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

The full text of the email reads:

 

“Anne and Eric, on behalf of the two Anglers’ Associations I represent as one of the five Water Supply Protection Trust trustees, I write to tell you your quoted remarks in the Athol Daily News were right on target, and we fully support and appreciate your efforts.

 

“Anne, we absolutely agree that DFW and DCR need to focus their attention on saving the timber rattlers in their centuries old dens. [Dr. Tom] French wants to tie the Mount Zion initiative to the $500,000 grant, but we know the grant, which he wrote, was originally to end Sep 30, 2015. And, it said nothing about Mount Zion as a feature of the multi-state project; plus, it stipulated that the headstart snakes were to be returned to their sites of origin. We also know now that he asked for an extension of the project to May 30, 2018. That still is not in synch with the Zion plan, which he says won’t see snakes being placed on Zion until 2017 and will continue with more headstarts for an additional 10 years. His response to [Athol Daily News report Brian] Gelinas was merely an attempt to obfuscate the relationship of Zion to the original grant project with no clear status of funding beyond May 2018.

 

“There are obvious inconsistencies here. Mount Zion was an afterthought — how to expand the grant effort and dollars into French’s legacy — a snake island in the Quabbin. (Rhetorical) We did it with loons and bald eagles; why not restore timber rattlers there? Seems it will become a playground for himself and his UMass grad student for years to come. So, will it become his created legacy, or will it become the state legislature’s legacy that has allowed it to advance for a decade or more. It is after all an experiment and they (the rattlers) may die while he/they try to create a new, model [hibernaculum].

 

“Eric, regarding the study group, we would hope the focus of the group is on timber rattler survival across Massachusetts — not just Mount Zion. If the group has that singular perspective, the outcome is clear — continue with the Quabbin initiative. Anne, as you have stated, significant resources of both DFW and DCR need to be applied to the five remaining den sites. Only after fixing them should any resources and attention be applied to creating a new site. It is interesting that when French speaks of the rattlers’ survival you never hear him tell of all the great initiatives and programs he is working on with DCR Parks. They appear to be part of the problem and not its solution. One last thought, as we suggested previously, we’d like a position on the study group, with local community representation as well.”

No Comment

 

Asked for her opinion of the Mount Zion proposal, State Rep. Susannah Whipps Lee (R-Athol) said in a brief email Tuesday she is not going to comment until the study group is in place and conducting its review.

courtesy Athol Daily News

 

rattlesnakes quabbin

new

 

Senate OKs amendment in proposed ’17 budget

for 1-year moratorium on Quabbin snake plan

 

By Brian Gelinas,

ADN Staff Reporter

(June 2, 2016)

 

BOSTON — The State Senate last week approved attaching an amendment to the proposed fiscal year 2017 budget that would place a one-year moratorium on the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s plan to place endangered timber rattlesnakes on Mount Zion Island at the Quabbin Reservoir.

 

The amendment, filed by State Sen. Eric Lesser (D-East Longmeadow), was approved by a voice vote without a roll call, Beacon Hill Roll Call’s Bob Katzen told the Athol Daily News last week. It also calls for the formation of a study group by July 31 to review the plan.

 

Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton proposed the formation of such a group at the legislative oversight hearing held in Athol’s Memorial Hall in May. At that time, Beaton said the group’s purpose would be to review the “merit, location and timeline” of the plan to place rattlesnakes on Mount Zion.

 

Lesser’s amendment expands the group’s mission to include the group recommending “the best practices to protect existing timber rattlesnake populations” and submitting a report to the legislature by year’s end.

At the oversight hearing in Athol, Lesser called for the idea of a study group to be put into legislative form to, in part, ensure the group would be answerable to a higher authority.

 

Residents in the towns surrounding the reservoir are split on their support for, or opposition to, the plan. Those supporting the plan say they recognize the importance of protecting the species, which is designated as endangered in Massachusetts, but thriving elsewhere in the country, such as in Pennsylvania. Those opposed cite safety concerns and express a fear the venomous snakes could migrate from Mount Zion, which is off limits to the public, to areas of the watershed accessible by the public and pose a snakebite risk.

 

In filing the amendment, Lesser sided with the opposition, saying there are significant concerns with regard to public safety aspects of the plan and its possible effects on the public’s access to the watershed area. He also noted the one-year moratorium would allow for the study group to garner input from residents local to the Quabbin watershed area. He said in a statement the amendment is “necessary and prudent given the many unanswered questions that local residents have about this proposal.”

 

State Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) and State Rep. Paul Schmid III (D-Westport) co-chair the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, which held the oversight hearing in Athol. Lesser, while not a member of the committee, represents a number of towns in the Quabbin area in his role as senator.

Asked last week for comment on the amendment, Gobi said, “I spoke about it on the Senate floor. I did not cosponsor the amendment because I had received a letter from Secretary Beaton in which he put in writing what he talked about at the oversight hearing in creating a working group to look at this issue in more detail.”

 

Commenting on the plan to place rattlesnakes on Mount Zion, Gobi said, “My position has never changed. I believe in protecting all endangered species and I would like to see the emphasis put on protecting the timber rattlesnake in the five colonies they currently exist and doing everything to protect them and preserve them in those areas instead of creating a new site. I am concerned that, if the emphasis is on creating a new site, not enough will be done to protect the timber rattlesnakes that currently are living in dens across the state.”

 

While the amendment calls for a one-year moratorium, after the effective date of the act, Dr. Tom French, of the DFW’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, has said any placement of timber rattlesnakes on Mount Zion would not occur in the immediate future. He has said the snakes that would be placed on the island are currently being “headstarted” at Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, R.I., and they were birthed from snakes taken from existing dens in Massachusetts.

French has also stated the Mount Zion plan is funded, in part, by a multi-state grant received to combat a fungal disease threatening various species of snakes, including the timber rattlesnake. A copy of that grant was recently obtained by the Athol Daily News. The grant was to have expired on Sept. 30, 2015, but has been extended through May 30, 2018.

 

Massachusetts is the lead state for the grant, for which French has previously stated he wrote the grant application.

 

With regard to the placement of snakes on Mount Zion, it is noted in Paragraph D on page 12 of the grant application “all snakes headstarted as part of this proposal will be released into the population from which they originated.”

 

Asked whether that clause would negate the proposal to place the headstarted snakes on Mount Zion, French said Thursday morning, “The grant application was a proposal for the expenditure of grant funds. Only two rattlesnake headstarting projects were under way during the grant period, and both of them involved releasing headstarted snakes back into the populations from which they originated in order to maintain the integrity of the local genetic profile. The first headstarted snakes for the Quabbin rattlesnake project were scheduled to be released after this grant period was over. So, the description of projects to be funded by the grant do not negate or contradict the Quabbin rattlesnake plan.”

courtesy  Athol Daily News