The public will have its first chance to speak at next week’s meeting of the Rattlesnake Review Working Group.
Objections were raised following the group’s last meeting Feb. 28 in Belchertown, when those in attendance were not permitted to speak. But spoken comments will be allowed at the March 22 meeting, group Chairman Joseph Larson confirmed Wednesday night.
Larson added, though, that it would not be a dialogue or a “back-and-forth debate kind of thing, because we don’t have anything to debate.”
The 14-member group, which is reviewing conservation strategies for endangered timber rattlesnakes, has not yet come up with a particular proposal.
The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus in Ware, 126 W. Main St.
Previously, public comment at the group’s meetings has been accepted in writing or through a survey online.
The group is expected to provide its recommendations to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. There are only five populations of the timber rattlesnake in Massachusetts, two of which the agency has deemed are at a “very high risk of imminent extirpation.”
Public outcry began after a proposal to start a population of the snakes on Mount Zion at the Quabbin Reservoir was discussed last year. That proposal was shelved, and the current working group was formed to examine numerous existing snake habitats.
The move to allow for in-person comment comes after some objected to the restriction, Larson said.
“It’s not a bad thing to open a third avenue for getting comments,” Larson said. “There will be some people who will be wanting to ask specific questions and get in a dialogue with committee members. That is not going to be very helpful.
“We have stuff that really has to be done and the committee will be doing it and discussing it in front of everybody,” he continued.
Larson said the purpose of the entire meeting process was to make sure the review committee’s business was done in public. He added that they are run the same as meetings for the state’s Fisheries and Wildlife Board, of which he is the chairman, in that the public can attend and listen, but if they want to make comment they must contact the board in advance to be given a time slot.
The topic of public comment was a point of discussion at Monday’s Select Board meeting in Belchertown. Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, serves on the study group and was at the meeting to listen to the board’s concerns on a variety of topics. About 60 people attended the study group’s Feb. 28 meeting.
“The fact that there was no public input was not well received,” Select Board member Ronald Aponte said at the meeting.
“The whole reason for this committee is that there is public input. So there is that education, so there is that dialogue going back and forth. I certainly did not get that impression at the meeting,” Aponte said. “I think that is going to be self-defeating for that committee unless they do solicit the input from the public.”
Lesser told the board he also questioned why there were no public comments allowed at that February meeting.
“The feedback that we got from the committee was that if they did that, there wouldn’t be time to do the other presentations,” he said. “That should be inverted. The point of the hearing is to get the comments ... the first thing to do is to listen what the community is concerned about and then respond to the concerns.”
Specifics on how comments will be allowed are yet to be determined, but Larson said they will be announced at the beginning of the meeting.
Emily Cutts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.