Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Timber Rattlesnake Conservation in Connecticut

Crotalus horridus

The presence of rattlesnakes is a reminder that America has wild places. Unlike many of the natricids (garter snakes, water snakes, brown snakes)  that common and are often present in urbanized habitat, rattlesnakes often survive better in places with lower human populations. To be sure humans have altered the habitat at times so that rattlesnakes are favored. Cutting old growth forests that offered minimal basking opportunities resulted in increased rattlesnake populations in many areas of the eastern US. At times this resulted in bounties being placed on the pit vipers, and extirpation sometimes followed.

Thus it is welcome news that a well developed eastern state, in this case Connecticut, are interested in protecting remaining populations of timber rattlesnakes. Peter Marteka of the Hartford Courant (October 19, 2010) reports that the town of Glastonbury, CT received a $180,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to buy the Tiboni property, a 55-Acre parcel in the town's eastern highlands. Connecticut law prevents people from trapping or killing snakes, and most snake mortality these days is from traffic. "This whole area is prime rattlesnake country," town planner John Rook said. "One of the town's goals has been to piece together properties and protect a large, unfragmented area, especially in this part of town." The local, state and the federal governments, as well as groups like the Nature Conservancy, have targeted the 17,500-acre Meshomasic highlands in central Connecticut as an area to be preserved. The highlands run through Bolton, East Hampton, Glastonbury, Hebron, Marlborough and Portland. It seems unusual, but when development has been proposed near a snake habitat, Glastonbury has enforced its strict guidelines that protect the snake's denning and foraging areas. Developers are required to hire herpetologists, educate homeowners about the snake, and limit work to winter, when snakes are hibernating. "It's not only the snakes, but there are neotropical songbirds that thrive in the unfragmented forest areas," Rook said. "These properties have been on the radar screen for a long time and have been a priority for years."

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