Schatzl says snake proposal opponents ‘deliberately ignorant’
By Brian Gelinas ADN Staff Reporter
BELCHERTOWN — “Deliberately ignorant.”
That is how one proponent of the state’s Quabbin Reservoir rattlesnake plan describes those residents, town officials and business owners of the towns surrounding the reservoir who have expressed opposition to the proposal.
Kurt Schatzl, president and environmental law analyst for the New England Herpetological Society, which is based in Weymouth, made that statement first in comments posted on an online blog by project opponent Mike Krunklevich, of Orange.
That posting reads: “Hi Mike. I witnessed your rambling, incoherent speech at the first Quabbin/Mt. Zion Island hearing. I see your writing isn’t much more lucid. It’s hard to believe that the snake-haters out your way have seen fit to make you their ambassador for information services. Hard to believe but still strangely appropriate. How come nothing made the news when they launched huge platform barges on Quabbin for loon restoration or when they erected the equivalent of a gigantic jungle gym for bald eagle nesting? Now it’s about snakes and venomous ones at that and never mind trying to educate your deliberately ignorant neighbors out there. We have the best education system on the planet here in Massachusetts and out there, it’s all for nothing.”
Krunklevich forwarded those comments to the Athol Daily News last week. In turn, the newspaper contacted Schatzl and asked him to elaborate on his remarks.
“My remarks come from my experiences from attending two informational presentations open to the public and one legislative hearing, all out in your neighborhood. They also come from 40 years of educating the general public on the benefits of snakes, including venomous ones,” Schatzl wrote in an email.
He continued, “As a result of attending these events, I’ve been subjected to threats of violence and outrageously idiotic questions from grown, adult human beings. The best of which was when a woman at the first hearing in Orange suggested that the snakes’ venom would poison the reservoir. This was said out loud, by an adult woman.
“Yes, we all know snakes can swim. Every 9-year-old knows this. Grown adults don’t need to keep repeating it. Yes, some may swim off the island initially and, as has been stated, they will be tracked via telemetry and retrieved. If this happens continuously, I would imagine the project would have to be re-evaluated as to its feasibility regarding timber rattlesnake habitat. They’ll leave their home if they don’t like it there.
“If this does not happen continuously, it’s because the snakes like their habitat and stay close to it. Without proper habitat, the snakes would perish in winter.”
Responding to the suggestion that those residing around the reservoir should not be asked to accept rattlesnakes “in their backyards” until those supporting the project were willing to do the same, Schatzl responded, “I actually do have these snakes in my backyard. They are in my hometown. Parts of the Blue Hills support active den sites that are less than a mile from my house.
“The reason these snakes need protection from people is the same reason they are uncommon in New England and somewhat common everywhere else. In the northeast, timber rattlers utilize rocky ledge and outcroppings for basking and hibernation. They were very easy for colonists to find in the 1600s when mass slaughters of these snakes took place at den sites. These two things combined to dramatically decrease numbers of these snakes in the northeast. Timber rattlers do not utilize this type of habitat in the southern part of their range and these populations weren’t subjected to mass exterminations hundreds of years ago.”
Commenting on those opposed to the plan, and the skeptical view many in the area have with regard to state government as the result of the taking of towns for the reservoir’s creation in the 1930s, Schatzl said, “I’m almost 50 years old and I know snake-haters when I hear them. You can couch it in sour grapes from a land grab that occurred before both of us were alive if you like, or instead focus on the evil state department flavor of the week, be it the Department of Conservation and Recreation or Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. You just watch too many movies and you are as the phrase I’ve coined describes, deliberately ignorant. You refuse to be educated. This is incredibly sad.”
Schatzl did not comment on the suggestion that the state work to better its efforts to protect and increase the five known populations of rattlesnakes where they now exist.
The NEHS can be found online at http://www.neherp.com. The website notes the organization is a group of reptile and amphibian enthusiasts. Its mission is the education, conservation and the advancement of herpetology. It was founded in 1972 as the Massachusetts Herpetological Society and is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Specifically stated goals include:
- To promote the discovery and dissemination of amphibian and reptile information;
- To encourage the specific study of amphibians and reptiles;
- To encourage the conservation of amphibians and reptiles, as well as wildlife in general; and
- To stimulate fellowship among herpetologists and herp enthusiasts throughout New England.
‘Protect In Place’
Also commenting again on the proposal recently was Ret. Brigadier Gen. William Meehan, of Athol, who, in his role as a trustee of the Water Supply Protection Trust and representative of the Northwest County Quabbin Anglers Association, is advocating for the state to do more to protect and increase the five known rattlesnake populations.
Meehan referenced an Associated Press article which appeared in at least one regional newspaper over the weekend in which the efforts of federal and state wildlife organizations to save endangered piping plovers are applauded. “Through their efforts, they have increased the breeding pairs in Massachusetts from 140 in 1968 to more than 680 pairs in 2015. How did they do it? While local communities along the Atlantic shoreline weren’t totally supportive, the state and federal fish and wildlife services restricted access to the natural, historic, beach front-nesting areas of these birds,” said Meehan. “So successful has been this endeavor, that some fences restricting access are being moved and some roads are being opened for vehicular access. A really significant environmental success story!”
Meehan added, “It is important to understand what protective measures were employed — preserving their historical nesting areas and creating, in place, population growth of this endangered species. This is exactly what the NWQCAA and [the] Quabbin Fishermen’s Association, and the many concerned folks in communities around the Quabbin have been advocating. Perhaps this can’t be totally achieved at Blue Hills and Mount Tom, but surely among the five den sites across the Commonwealth our DFW and DCR staffs should be able to achieve a similar success story with the timber rattlesnake. There is no need to deposit a colony of pit vipers on Mount Zion; protect the snakes in place.
“They (DFW) have even prescribed this as a ‘Management Recommendation,’ which you can read on page 3 of their fact sheet: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dfg/nhesp/species-and-conservation/nhfacts/crotalus-horridus.pdf. Therein they have said to themselves, among other things, protect the dens and basking sites, restrict human access, limit and eliminate trails on public lands and implement seasonal road closure to prevent road mortality (their words).
“Bottom line: DFW should be emulating their success with the piping plover and implementing their own recommendations for timber rattlers.”
Meehan also noted interest remains on the part of the WSPT and NWQCAA in having a seat on the study group being formed by the state to review the rattlesnake plan.
State Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), who also received Meehan’s remarks, noted that Athol Selectman Anthony Brighenti, a former Environmental Police officer and a member of the NWCQAA, has agreed to be a member of the study group.
courtesy of Athol Dailey News