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

“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.

  Enlarge Photo

An Orianne Society scientist implants a PIT
(passsive integrative responder)
into a timber rattlesnake. The device does
not harm the snake.

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

  Enlarge Photo

Timber Rattlesnake

“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

“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.”

A copy of the report can be found in our Publications section.

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

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