In Vermont, Iconic Rattlesnake Facing an Uncertain Future
A report released today by wildlife conservation group, The Orianne Society, shows that the endangered Timber Rattlesnake can spend as much as half of their time on private property outside of protected lands in Vermont, a fact that has researchers concerned.
Chris Jenkins, CEO of The Orianne Society and New England native said, "The timber rattlesnake has already disappeared in Maine and Rhode Island, is close to extinction in New Hampshire, and populations in Massachusetts and Connecticut are declining. If we do not act now, we face losing an important part of our heritage as New Englanders; losing our greatest symbol of wilderness in the region; and losing the icon that we rallied behind to fight for our freedom in the American Revolution."
In Vermont, the last remaining populations of this cultural icon are limited to small pockets in Rutland County. While much of their winter habitat is protected, scientists studying the snakes were previously unsure about where the snakes go when they leave their dens during the summer. Using radio telemetry and mark and recapture techniques researchers were able to track snakes over a year long period.
"Many people don’t realize how far these snakes can travel," said Javan Bauder, a scientist with The Orianne Society. "When trying to protect the land they need for survival it’s important to consider both winter and summer habitat and realize that these two might be separated by a few miles." When traveling, the snake is vulnerable to threats, such as cars and other predators, particularly people.
The Timber Rattlesnake is protected by Vermont law from killing, harm or harassment, but human persecution remains a real threat to a rattlesnake that ventures from protected land. In an effort to mitigate this risk conservationists have created a Rattlesnake Removal Program that offers landowners who do not want an errant snake on their property an alternative to killing the animal. The program is a free service provided to any landowner who wants to have a wandering rattlesnake removed from their land. Scientists from The Orianne Society, and its partner; the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, are available seven days a week, day and evening to help landowners with rattlesnake-related questions and issues.
Doug Blodgett, wildlife biologist for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, is enthusiastic about the snake study. "Our Department is eager to focus research efforts towards this endangered reptile which heretofore, has received slight attention. Through this research project, our limited understanding about the local habits, movements and range of this unique animal has grown considerably. Our intent is to continue to expand our knowledge base with subsequent study to help guide our future efforts toward conserving this valuable, native Vermont species."
"It’s critical for our conservation efforts to understand what threats remain to this population because rattlesnakes have such slow reproductive rates," said Bauder. "They may take up to ten years to reach sexual maturity and females only reproduce every three to six years. As a result, when an adult is killed, particularly an adult female, it can be a significant hindrance to a population’s ability to grow. By uniquely marking individual rattlesnakes and then recapturing them, over the years we can determine if the population is increasing or decreasing. This lets us know if our conservation efforts are doing an effective job at recovering the species."
The report is part of an ongoing partnership between The Orianne Society, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, and The Nature Conservancy to identify habitat critical to the survival of the species. This study will continue for a second year in 2012. The Orianne Society and Fish and Wildlife researchers plan to track more snakes to gain an even clearer picture of where these rattlesnakes travel during the summer and to monitor the overall health of the population.
"We rallied behind the image of the Timber Rattlesnake as a symbol of patriotism during the Revolutionary War, a symbol of civil liberties throughout American history, and we consider it an icon for our remaining wilderness areas", says Jenkins, "Now we need to rally for this species as it faces a very uncertain future without conservation action."
To contact members of the Rattlesnake Removal Program:
- Kiley Briggs, All Vermont, including all of Rutland County, at 802-363-2494
- Paul Jardine, Fair Haven, at 802-579-9101
- Murray McHugh, West Haven, at 802-265-8645 x28
- David Fedor-Cunningham, Benson, at 802-537-4461
- Lisa Jacobson, Fair Haven, at 802-282-3850.
- Rob Sterling, VTF&W, at 802-773-9101
The Orianne Society is a private, non-profit wildlife foundation that conserves rare reptiles and amphibians in their native habitats. By working with a diverse group of partners, The Orianne Society achieves success by using sound science and direct on-the-ground conservation. To find out more about The Orianne Society and the many conservation and science projects in which it is involved around the world, please visit www.oriannesociety.org