Delisting timber rattlesnakes was the correct move in Pennsylvania
I wear many “hats” as an outdoor lover – hunter, fisherman, nature photographer, outdoor writer, hiker, conservationist and environmentalist, among others. I realize that a few readers of this blog will jump on the term “environmentalist” judging the label as a bad thing. The opposite is true. I am proud to be labeled an environmentalist. Environmentalists and environmental groups, such as the Audubon Society and Trout Unlimited, stand up for the environment, thus directly or indirectly protecting the species that hunters and anglers love.
Hunters are good, too, and as a group they have been conservation leaders. However, unregulated hunting drastically reduced some species, such as the white-tailed deer, and brought about the extinction of the passenger pigeon and the eastern elk.
Environmentalists blew the whistle on DDT and the harm that lead shot was doing to waterfowl. However, sometimes environmental groups go beyond facts and evidence. Recent actions by the Center for Biological Diversity illustrate this point.
Since 1978, the timber rattlesnake has been listed as a “candidate species” by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. For those of you unfamiliar with the terminology, this means that its population status was uncertain and believed to be so dangerously low in Pennsylvania that the species was being considered for “endangered” or “threatened” status.
Endangered and threatened species have much greater protection under the law. Candidate species do not. However, using caution, the commission instituted stricter rules governing the hunting of rattlesnakes and rattlesnake roundups.
A 12-year statewide assessment was recently completed. During that period, Commission biologists, volunteers and other researchers visited more than 1,700 sites, of which 71 percent were occupied by timber rattlesnakes.
Based on that assessment, we know that the timber Rattlesnake is currently found in 51 of 67 counties, with the population being particularly dense in the central part of the state. According to the commission’s non-game and endangered species coordinator Chris Urban, the population is hundreds of thousands strong and could be as high as a million.
The agency’s research indicated that the rattlesnake population is stable and recovering, and is no longer experiencing a decline. Agency staff, as well as the technical committee of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey recommended delisting of the species.
Without data to the contrary, accusations of improper influence, or even fact-based concerns, a couple-hundred-word plea from the Center for Biological Diversity generated over 2200 letters to the Commission opposing the change in classification of timber rattlesnakes.
In July, the commissioners correctly ignored the letters and voted to change the timber rattlesnake’s designation from “candidate” to a “species of special concern.” Both have the same population protections.
In my opinion, this is the way the process is supposed to work. Concern was expressed and the species was listed as a “candidate.” Protections were put in place and timber rattlesnakes were studied. It was determined that the population was neither threatened nor endangered. Thus, it was delisted. A long-term monitoring plan is being tested right now and will be in place by 2018.
I would agree with Commission Executive Director John Arway. “The delisting of the timber rattlesnake demonstrates how protective measures and regulations can be successfully implemented to conserve a species and improve a population.”
It is refreshing to see the process work the way it is supposed to.