The state of Massachusetts wants to turn a lake island into a breeding colony for swimming rattlesnakes.
Government officials are upbeat about the venomous project: “Timber Rattlesnakes are generally mild in disposition and often rattle their tails to alert animals and people of their presence,” said a statement from the pro-snake wildlife department.
There have been no problems so far, says the department, even though the snake-breeding plan has not yet begun. “As a venomous snake, the Timber Rattlesnake certainly has the potential to be dangerous, but the reality is that there has been no harm inflicted on the public by these reptiles.”
Mount Zion island is a 1,350-acre, uninhabited rock in the state’s largest body of water, the Quabbin Reservoir, near Petersham. The snakes can swim, and the island is connected to the mainland by a pair of causeways.
The island is off-limits to the public, but people say the swimming venomous-snakes could escape their island home and spread into the nearby popular hiking and recreation areas.
While some may find it fitting that a government is creating its own giant snake pit, the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Tom French told the public “It’s not going to be like ‘Indiana Jones’ with rattlesnakes everywhere.”
French blamed the media for blowing the plans out of proportion and unduly scaring the public. “If I listened to everything I heard and everything I read in the paper, I wouldn’t support it either,” French said.
French reported that the plan is meant to help bolster the dwindling population of the indigenous rattler. Fewer than 200 of the snakes supposedly exist in the wild in the state, he said. His department plans to oversee a hatchery of timber rattlers at the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. After birth, the snakes will then be transferred to Mount Zion where they will grow to maturity.
The concerns of Athol resident Bob Curley are typical of local worries.
Curley said the snakes will surely become a hazard for locals, and Mount Zion just isn’t the right place for the snake colony. “When the inevitable happens and there is an interplay between a hiker and a rattler, what’s the repercussion?” he asked.
Noting that his dog was likely bitten by a venomous snake, Curley, the president of the North Quabbin Trails Association, wanted to know what would be done if the snakes start to get loose. “Are the trails around the Quabbin going to be shut down?” he asked.
Curley also wondered what would happen if someone killed one of the snakes. Would the government start sanctioning or ticketing and fining people?
Another local resident who is against the plan is J.R. Greene of Athol, an author who has written 16 books on the region. “Everyone I’ve talked to is opposed to it,” he told The Republican newspaper. “People are just suspicious of snakes.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston, or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.