Metro

‘Rattlesnake island’ proposal is suspended after public response

Associated Press

Mount Zion island in Quabbin Resevoir is seen ar rear.

Fear not, herpetophobes: No venomous snakes will be plopped on an island in the middle of the Quabbin Reservoir for the purposes of repopulating.

The state Fisheries & Wildlife board Wednesday voted to “indefinitely suspend” plans to breed timber rattlesnakes in captivity and then bring the endangered creatures to Mount Zion — the largest island in the reservoir — to thrive.

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The decision was made after “considering recommendations and comments by the Rattlesnake Working Group and members of the public,” state officials said.

“The Department of Fish and Game remains committed to the protection and conservation of all endangered and at-risk species throughout the Commonwealth,” said Peter Lorenz, spokesman for the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which oversees the department.

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He added the state looks “forward to continuing to work with the public and stakeholders to utilize the best science available in an effort to strike a balance between wildlife protection and public access.”

The proposal, which came to be known unofficially as “Rattlesnake Island,” called for reestablishing the timber rattlesnake population by breeding more than 100 of the snakes at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island and then transporting them, over the course of a decade, to the island.

But people feared that unleashing the poisonous snakes would put residents, hikers, and those fishing nearby in danger. The island is closed to the public, but many claimed the snakes would swim to land.

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Amid concerns, a panel of elected officials and wildlife specialists called the “Rattlesnake Working Group” was formed, and public hearings were held to discuss thecontroversial plan.

After months of debate, those who staunchly opposed a snake haven won out Wednesday.

Senator Eric Lesser, whose district includes Belchertown, one of the communities that borders the reservoir, said he was pleased with the state’s decision to reverse its stance and instead focus on supporting the existing rattlesnake population.

“Protection of the environment and sound stewardship of our wildlife are values I hold deeply, and I know the residents of the Quabbin region care deeply about them as well,” he said in a statement. “My hope is that in the future, these types of projects will be undertaken with an appreciation for the impact they have on local communities.”

In a follow-up interview with the Globe, Lesser added, “Mission accomplished.”

“I’m grateful they made this decision,” he said. “It’s the right decision.”

Senator Anne Gobi, whose district includes the reservoir and surrounding communities, also supported the board’s vote.

“Preservation of endangered species is a major priority of mine and members of the Fisheries and Wildlife Board,” she said in a statement. “The decision to convene the Rattlesnake Working Group was an important measure to hear from area residents and to determine if this plan was the right one. In the end, it wasn’t.”

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.
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