- The state plans to preserve timber rattlesnakes in the Quabbin Reservoir
- They will live on off-limits island Mount Zion which measures 1,400 acres
- Rattlesnakes can swim and island is linked to mainland, sparking fears
- Tom French, who is directing the project, insists rattlesnakes are timid
Jessica Chia For Dailymail.com
17:09 EST, 21 February 2016
23:17 EST, 21 February 2016
Plans to establish a colony of venomous rattlesnakes on an island in Massachusetts have been met with outrage due to fears that the animals could escape.
Timber rattlesnakes are indigenous to the New England state, and with only about 200 left, wildlife officials are fighting to save the endangered species.
Tom French of the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife hopes the snakes, which currently inhabit five scattered pockets throughout Massachusetts, can come together on Mount Zion, the largest island in the Quabbin Reservoir.
But people are concerned about their own safety – especially since rattlesnakes can swim and the island is connected to the mainland by a pair of narrow causeways.
Tom French of the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife hopes timber rattlesnakes (file photo), which are indigenous to Massachusetts, can be preserved on Mount Zion in Quabbin Reservoir
The island measures more than 1,400 acres (file photo), which will provide shelter from human interference with plenty of places to hibernate and mice and chipmunks to eat
French, who is directing the project and representing the state at a public meeting on Tuesday to address concerns, said people are driven by irrational fears.
He said: ‘People are afraid that we’re going to put snakes in a place of public use and that they are going to breed like rabbits and spread over the countryside and kill everybody,’ he said.
He added it was critical to save the snakes, which could disappear forever due to human-caused deaths and a loss of habitat.
The plan to establish the snakes on Mount Zion, which measures more than 1,400 acres, has been in the works for several years.
A handful of snakes will be raised at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. Once they are mature enough to survive in the wild, they will be placed on the island.
The project has received the endorsement of Gov. Charlie Baker.
Bob Curley, an avid hiker, supports the rattlesnake preservation effort but doesn’t think the Quabbin is the right place to do it.
Even though Mount Zion is off limits to the public, he’s concerned the state will use the snakes as an excuse to shut off public access to areas around the reservoir about 65 miles west of Boston.
He said: ‘When the inevitable happens and there is an interplay between a hiker and a rattler, what’s the repercussion?’
The Athol resident, who said his dog was bitten by a rattlesnake last summer, added: ‘Are the trails around the Quabbin going to be shut down?’
French said: ‘People are afraid that we’re going to put snakes in a place of public use and that they are going to breed like rabbits and spread over the countryside and kill everybody’
There is no plan to deny public access to the Quabbin, and French said concerns that snakes will leave the island and threaten humans are unfounded, since they are timid animals that only strike out when provoked.
He also pointed out that there have been no documented rattlesnake bite deaths in Massachusetts since colonial times.
Despite rattlesnake populations on public lands with heavy foot traffic, French said he couldn’t recall an accidental bite in his 32 years with the state agency.
On Mount Zion, the snakes will be safe from human interference. They will also have ideal places to hibernate and plenty of mice and chipmunks to eat.
‘We want one place where the impact of people in not part of the equation,’ French said.
The state’s message appears to be getting out.
Nancy Allen, chairwoman of the selectboard in Petersham, a town on the eastern shore of the reservoir, said she heard from fearful residents when the plan became public, but those fears died down once people educated themselves about the project.
‘Once they started to look into the facts, people started to change their minds,’ she said.
Peter Mallett, a recreational fisherman who lives in New Salem, a town on the Quabbin’s western shore, opposed the snake project at first, but changed his mind after digging deeper.
‘People are just petrified of snakes,’ he said.
But people are concerned about their own safety – especially since rattlesnakes can swim and the island is connected to the mainland by a pair of narrow causeways