An island of rattlesnakes may soon be a reality in Mass., and some residents aren’t happy

Public documents provide a glimpse into one town’s anxiety over the proposed reptile colony.

–Bill Byrne/AP

In January, Tom French, the Massachusetts Assistant Director of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife proposed a plan to establish a Timber Rattlesnake colony on Zion Island in the Quabbin Reservoir. While the state plans to move forward with the plan, Massachusetts residents have had mixed reactions.

French’s motivation is to repopulate the species, which is indigenous to Massachusetts. Mt. Zion would provide an abundant food supply as well as plenty of hibernation spots for Timber Rattlesnakes. But some are not pleased with an increase in the rattlesnake population: The timber is venomous, and some feel it will pose a threat to safety.


In a series of public documents released by MuckRock, a public records news site, some Massachusetts residents expressed anxiety and fear at the prospect of a “snake island.” Others, however, seem to be in favor of it.

Here are some of the more interesting emails sent to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

This person’s prior experiences with Rattlesnakes are enough to keep them from supporting any sort of resurgence in the local rattlesnake population:

We had the following sorts of experiences living in a place now locally sometimes called rattlesnake gulch, and that I’ve seen referred to as one of the very few real colonies left by the end of the 20th century.
1. In the 1930s, my father found a rattlesnake in my sister’s playpen (with my sister there) on the front lawn (perhaps the snake thought the place was safe because the house had not been inhabited for a long time before my parents bought it). Fortunately the snake was not sufficiently scared or threatened by her to bite, but this shows they don’t always try to avoid humans.
2. I was rattled at by a rattlesnake that was lying under my favorite climbing maple tree, where it was lying in my little path to the tree, where I used to go read. Again, this was in a well-used area near our house. Had I been on foot instead of bike that day, I could have stepped on it running barefoot as usual to my tree.
3. During one very dry summer in the 1950s, the snakes came down (presumably from the ledges they likes, and presumably looking for water).
*We found one sunning itself on our front doorstep, crawling under the kitchen in the crawl space.
*A neighbor found one in her livingroom; it had found a way in, apparently again looking for water.
4. One other time, I found one along the edge of the neighbor’s pond where we used to swim.
My mother also once has one drop out of a tree or something onto her when she was riding a horse; I expect it was startled too, and slithered away. I don’t know what state it was in.

This concerned citizen believes that rattlesnakes could be a gateway to other fearsome reptiles. They even use a few metaphors to illustrate their point:

What’s next? Your Komodo Dragon project? The Gila Monster Project? Alligator Snapping Turtles? Saltwater crocs? I am sure these are all “misunderstood” and “beneficial.”
The voters will regret that you were not removed before you could implement your moronic and ill concieved plan filled with hubris and narcissism.
Just as Icarus flew too close to the sun, your plan will crash and burn. And the voters (and their children) will pay the price.
As the cliche goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
P.S. I am sure that at one time, there were poisonous snakes in what is now Boston Common. When can we look forward to your Boston Common plan? How about your Olmsted Park plan? I am sure Brookline will be thrilled with your wayward logic.

This person is very angry:

You dumb sons of b******. If you had any sense, you’d be dangerous. What low level a** hat is trying to justify his miserable existence and wasting tax dollars doing it? For whatever moron dreamed up this plan, these animals swim and colonize elsewhere.

And this avid hunter believes that rattlesnakes will pose a threat to hunters:

I will not be able to attend the Rattlesnake meeting, but want to submit a comment: HAVE YOU ALL LOST YOUR MINDS?
As an avid bird hunter and hiker the last thing I want to encounter in the woods is a deadly rattlesnake. We’ve done fine without them for generations—in fact, their extinction in MA would be an advance in civilization. As to the “island” ideas, do you realize that Rattlesnakes are excellent swimmers?
I will contacts my state rep and senator to oppose this foolishness, and suggest a cut in your funding if it goes forward.

Of course, not everyone is against the idea of snake island. In fact, about half of the released emails are in favor of the initiative. It appears as though this person is trying to articulate support for the colony, but they have a confusing way of doing so:

I applaud Mr. French rattlesnake endeavor. But I find that for him to say the Rattlesnakes will stay on the island is not a very reliable fact. After giving live birth to as many as 4 plus babies. Some will find the water and swim away from the island that he stated they would not leave the island.
I live in the middle of the desert I have only seen two snakes here. One a coral and one cooked in my fire pit for burning. I found him a small red race native to California. I live in New Mexico. Just sayin.
Good Luck on containment it dose not work. When dealing with reptiles in the wild.
Have a blessed day.

And then there’s this person, who already lives among rattlesnakes and seems to enjoy it:

I grew up in Arlington, MA, but never was lucky enought to see a timber rattler. Now I live in Southern California. I just learned about the proposed Quabbin rattlesnake project on ABC NEws’ website. I’m writing in support of this project. I also want to give a perspective on living around rattlers from someone who encounters them at close range at least several times a year.
In San Diego we often meet rattlesnakes on local trails, which are never closed due to rattlesnake activity. Here it’s expected that whenever it’s warm, snakes will be out and about, and hikers need to be aware. (In fact, we saw one on a trail last week.) When my husband and I census bighorn sheep for Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, we often share our count site with at least one rattlesnake. We’re always delighted to have the chance to see and photograph them.
In all our many rattlesnake encounters over the last 30 years, we’ve never experienced any kind of rattlesnake “aggression”. Snakes don’t engage in Gary Larson cartoon behavior, hiding in wait to chase, bite, and eat us. They’ll avoid humans when they can, they’re an important part of the ecosystem, and they’re beautiful and fun to watch. The key is to treat them with respect and don’t invade their space or frighten them.
I realize most folks in MA have never seen a rattlesnake and are alarmed by the idea that they might encounter one. Movies, TV, and urban legends have given the rattlers an undeserved bad reputation, but this perception can be changed with public education. With enough education, I hope your citizens will learn to appreciate timber rattlesnakes the way we appreciate our local rattlesnakes—and I hope they will support your much-needed Quabbin rattlesnake project.

You can read the full list of letters to the department, courtesy of MuckRock.

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