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Harrisburg — Timber rattlesnakes are in trouble in a lot of states across the Northeast, that much everyone seemed to agree on.

What that should mean in terms of management of the species in Pennsylvania was more contentious.

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commissioners, acting on the advice of their staff, took the timber rattlesnake off the candidate list at their July meeting. That list is reserved for species that are thought to be in danger of becoming threatened or endangered.

That was the case for the timber rattlesnake back in 1978, when it went on the list, said Chris Urban, chief of the agency’s wildlife diversity section. It’s not now, he said.

A number of rules changes meant to protect the species – a limited hunting season, a reduction in annual harvest to one per person, minimum size restrictions meant to protect females and juveniles – and an increase in public education to teach more people to tolerate the snakes account for that, he said.

Urban said the numbers back that up.

A statewide assessment of timber rattlesnakes done between 2003 and 2014 – despite not accounting for 25 percent of the state that’s proven inaccessible for various reasons – found them to be “secure across their range,” Urban said.

In fact, he said, that work and anecdotal evidence from snake hunters, who these days report finding more of the venomous creatures than at any time in recent decades, indicates they’re doing very well.

“That’s not a species on the decline. That’s a species in recovery,” Urban said.

Some others disagreed.

A technical committee of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey – made up of scientists from the commission, academia and elsewhere – voted on two occasions to delist the snakes here. Neither vote was unanimous, however.

One member who voted against delisting said as much in a letter to the commission board.

“I believe that delisting the timber rattlesnakes at this time is premature and contrary to the wise conservation management of this species,” wrote Howard Reinart, a biology professor from the College of New Jersey who’s been studying the snakes here for decades.

He cited a number of reasons for his opposition. They included threats from “wanton persecution” to lack of a habitat management program to the fact that a “robust long-term population monitoring program” has just begun and won’t be finished for years.

He also suggested that because Pennsylvania is home to more timber rattlesnakes than any other state around it, the commission needs to manage it as a “responsibility species.”

That was one of the arguments made on behalf of two other groups by people testifying in person at the meeting.

Spokeswomen for the Mountain Watershed Association in Fayette County and Delaware Riverkeeper Network of Bucks County also recommended commissioners delay acting on the delisting proposal.

Melissa Marshall of the Watershed Association said delisting would be a “big mistake” because of the “many and varied” threats the species faces, none of which the commission has adequately addressed.

In all, 73 people submitted public comments prior to the meeting; 71 opposed delisting. Another 2,200 or so letters in opposition came in after the public comment period ended. Those were form letters generated by a story on the website of the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based organization that bills itself as using “science, law and creative media” to protect species.

It urged people to submit the form letter and “tell the Fish & Boat Commission that now is not the time to give up on timber rattlesnake recovery.”

Commissioners, though, went ahead anyway, saying they were putting their trust in the science collected by their staff.

That work found timber rattlesnakes in 51 of the state’s 67 counties. Populations in the central part of the state in particular are very dense, Urban said, to the point of being perhaps greater than anywhere else in the North.

There are a few spots, in the northwest corner of the state, where localized populations may be less than they once were, he said.

“But it’s not a regional assessment. You don’t look at one spot. You look across the whole state,” he said.

Commissioners Bill Sabatose, of Elk County, and Len Lichvar, of Somerset, said that was good enough for them. Lichvar said he was willing to link his reputation to that of Urban and his staff because of his faith in their work.

Commission Executive Director John Arway said delisting the timber rattlesnake does not mean the agency is turning its back on it.

“We’re not going to let down our guard,” he added.

The commission has plans in place to continue monitoring the species, he said. If populations ever decline, Arway noted, the commission can make changes accordingly.

In the meantime, the rattlesnake’s delisting is good news, said Dave Spotts, a retired employee of the agency. Once director of the Bureau of Environmental Services, he said a lot of people worked very hard for a lot of years to get to this point.

“This is our bald eagle. It’s a great day in conservation,” Spotts said
 

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There seems to be a larger number of them in the woods these days. Ran into one this turkey season, had 2 around the cabin within the last couple years, had a run in with one on the AT about 4 years ago, and my sister just took a couple pictures of one at Quarry Gap Shelter on the AT. A couple years ago we saw 3 different rattlers within about 1 square mile within 3 days. All of this in Michaux State Forest. I believe the only area in PA that you cannot hunt them.
 

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I hope the PFBC keeps the season dates and limit the same. One 42" or greater male per tag. Between now and mid September is when these rattlers are most susceptable to these wanton killings. Getting sighted on roads heading back to their dens. With all of the people against this delisting they still went ahead With their decision. Boy, I hope they know what they are doing.
 

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When it was said "this is our bald eagle. It's a great day in conservation" tells me that someone wants to put a feather in their cap for the rattlesnake recovery program. Something smells fishy. There were 71 of 73 experts opposed to this delisting. 2200 letters were sent opposing it. Political? Maybe. But the drilling is all but dried up in the core snake areas. I would say someone in the program is probably ready to retire and wants to go out in style.
 

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Maybe the situation has evolved to the point where management units need to established? Along with them season duration and bag limits adjustments?

Do you suppose there is a difference between what biologists desire, and what home/property owners will tolerate?
 

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Home owners already do not tolerate a rattlesnakes on their property. They SSS them all of the time. Rattlesnake haters do not tolerate them and will kill them on site where ever they are. They kill garter snakes for crying out loud, just because it's a friggin snake. I really hope they do not change the season and bag limits. I would like to see people get more educated and see that the timber rattler is a facinating, very docile creature that is misunderstood mainly due to all of the prejudice.
 

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Little Big Man said:
Home owners already do not tolerate a rattlesnakes on their property. They SSS them all of the time. Rattlesnake haters do not tolerate them and will kill them on site where ever they are. They kill garter snakes for crying out loud, just because it's a friggin snake. I really hope they do not change the season and bag limits. I would like to see people get more educated and see that the timber rattler is a facinating, very docile creature that is misunderstood mainly due to all of the prejudice.
I get what your saying and have tremendous respect for them and think they're pretty awesome. At the same time there are areas I deer hunt that I won't go near this time of year because I have seen too many to feel comfortable walking around. Also, I have young kids and if there was ever one living in my woodpile behind the house it would be a sure bet that I would kill it.

I know they are docile creatures but if your in an area that has an abundance of them you have to be super careful at all times.
 

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Little Big Man said:
Home owners already do not tolerate a rattlesnakes on their property.
Nor should they be required to........ especially if there are children. Anyone who would badmouth a homeowner for removing a venomous snake from his premises by WHATEVER method, needs to take a close look at his priorities.
 

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Ahh! The snake haters starting to come out.No need to get your cocconuts all bunched up bud. Not badmouthing anyone. Just stating facts. I guess the next time a bear comes into the yard I will just shoot it because it could possibly cause a threat to my children. Education and respect is what people need.
 

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I would be more concerned with getting Lyme Disease than getting bit by a rattler. They help control the tick population by feeding on the white footed mouse. Education goes a long way.
 

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Ah, the snake lovers......


Having had two go around with Lyme myself, and not living among snakes that bite, I surely AM more concerned with Lyme than rattlers. But I don't have to worry about my little ones running around the yard and woods in oblivion. A little repellant and a goodook over when they come in........apples and oranges. My kid gets bitten by a tick today, I can pull it off and ssek attention on Monday if I want. Couple pills and gone....

BTW....... Keep an eye on those bears in your yard. Neighbor lady had her 100 lb German Shepherd eviscerated in her yard a few years back by a 400-ish lb. boar that had made himself quite to home.
 

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I like those gummy worms in chocolate pudding with crushed Oreo's over top. Never ate any of those timber rattlesnackes, but I would think they are taste.
 

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Little Big Man said:
I would be more concerned with getting Lyme Disease than getting bit by a rattler. They help control the tick population by feeding on the white footed mouse. Education goes a long way.
Right here with this.
 

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Little Big Man said:
I would be more concerned with getting Lyme Disease than getting bit by a rattler. They help control the tick population by feeding on the white footed mouse. Education goes a long way.
And i suppose thats because you have no rattlesnakes in the garden or yard at your house. that does make a difference.
 

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I do with the 2 camps I have 1 Forest County and by George B Steve Dam area. Got them and see them. And I have kids and visitors that I warn.
We all get more ticks because we get off the porch
 

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Laylow said:
I do with the 2 camps I have 1 Forest County and by George B Steve Dam area. Got them and see them. And I have kids and visitors.
All the best to you and your kids...... really. I know it may be a small chance. But it is a REAL chance. I'd be paranoid as all get out the way my little ones go at it in the woods.
 

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darkhollowarcher said:
Little Big Man said:
I would be more concerned with getting Lyme Disease than getting bit by a rattler. They help control the tick population by feeding on the white footed mouse. Education goes a long way.
And i suppose thats because you have no rattlesnakes in the garden or yard at your house. that does make a difference.
I have a camp in snake territory. Up there a lot. Over 100 confirmed sightings this year. Never once did I feel threatened until I started handling them. That is when you have to be careful and know what you are doing. People get bit because they are careless and or drunk. Respect and education.
 
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