Director of Education
Advocates for Snake Preservation Urge Massachusetts Legislators to Stand With Science and Allow Timber Rattlesnake Introduction
BOSTON, Mass., June 14, 2016 – Advocates for Snake Preservation (ASP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the way people view and treat snakes, is leading a coalition of biologists and conservationists in support of timber rattlesnake conservation in Massachusetts and their introduction to Mount Zion Island in the Quabbin Reservoir. The coalition urges the state legislature to stand with science and allow this important conservation project to move forward.
Timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) have already disappeared from two New England states and are on the verge of doing so in the rest of the region, including Massachusetts. Less than 200 individuals in five small, isolated populations remain, and despite state protection these populations continue to be threatened by intentional persecution – deliberately killed due to fear – and Snake Fungal Disease, a deadly, emerging epidemic.
“Timber rattlesnakes are an important part of the natural and cultural history of Massachusetts, and have suffered the greatest decline of any native reptile in modern history,” said Melissa Amarello, cofounder and director of education for ASP and an expert in rattlesnake social behavior. “We have a sad, embarrassing history of persecuting animals we fear, often driving ecologically valuable animals to the brink of extinction. Due to their social structure and slow metabolism, timber rattlesnakes can have a greater impact on fluctuating prey populations, including those that can spread disease to humans, than their mammalian or avian counterparts.”
ASP and its coalition say the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s plan to release head-started timber rattlesnakes in the Quabbin Reservoir is scientifically sound and an important step in restoring an integral component of the local ecosystem. The island’s vegetation and rock structure is an ideal habitat, and since it is off limits to the public, there is no threat to human safety and no threat to snakes from human contact.
“This is an important step in the long-term preservation of a beautiful and valuable component of our rich natural heritage,” said Matthew R. Burne, MS and Vice President, Vernal Pool Association, a Peabody, Mass.-based environmental protection group.
“Opposition to this plan is based solely on fears and myths about snakes, so our group is offering scientific expertise to counteract these negative attitudes,” said Amarello. “Rattlesnakes share many traits that we value in people, and timber rattlesnakes are among the most social reptiles: females care for their young and retain close ties with relatives throughout their lives.”
ASP and its coalition is asking the Conference Committee to remove the amendment to the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget that would put this project on hold for at least one year. ASP also opposes the amendment’s requirement that any future conservation efforts be approved by the Massachusetts legislature. Typically, conservation decisions are made by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
“This amendment is an overreach that would set a dangerous precedent and have far-reaching impacts on future conservation decisions in the Commonwealth,” said Amarello. “We urge the Conference Committee members to reject this amendment, whether they like snakes or not, because ultimately this issue is about protecting nature from politics.”
About Advocates for Snake Preservation
ASP promotes compassionate conservation and coexistence with snakes through science, education, and advocacy. ASP identifies and addresses threats to snakes, conducts research, and dispels myths and misinformation about snakes. Snakes are threatened by many of the same issues that affect all wildlife, including habitat loss, climate change, and disease, but negative attitudes toward snakes may be the biggest barrier to their conservation because it often impedes efforts to address other threats. ASP was founded in 2014 and is based in Tucson, Arizona. For more information visit www.snakes.ngo.