Senate puts 1-year freeze on Quabbin rattlesnake plan

Budget amendment includes yearlong moratorium

  • A timber rattlesnake looks out from a grassy hiding place in Cross Fork, Pa. Ap photO

For the Bulletin
Thursday, June 02, 2016

BELCHERTOWN — The Massachusetts Senate passed an amendment to the state budget on May 25 to slow the plan to release timber rattlesnakes at the Quabbin Reservoir.

State Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, cited public safety concerns in calling for a one-year moratorium on the state’s plan to raise the endangered native snakes on an island in the reservoir.

“The people of western and central Massachusetts have justifiable concerns about breeding venomous snakes at the Quabbin Reservoir. I’m glad my colleagues joined me in recognizing the public safety concerns of this plan,” Lesser said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to ensure the Quabbin is protected, and that the community which knows this region best is properly engaged in decisions about its future.”

The amendment also calls for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to create a working group by July 31 to examine the “Rattlesnake Island” plan and to submit its updated recommendations to the House and Senate chairmen of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture no later than Dec. 31.

The Senate’s approved budget will head to a House-Senate conference committee responsible for resolving the two chambers’ proposals before it is sent to Gov. Charlie Baker for his review.

The conference committee will consist of three members from each chamber.

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has proposed breeding and introducing 150 timber rattlesnakes to Mount Zion Island in the Quabbin. The snakes are headed toward extinction and the state lists them as endangered in Massachusetts due to human persecution and loss of habitat.

Pressed by state lawmakers and facing pushback from residents and sportsmen, state officials earlier this month apologized for failing to properly engage the public on the plan. However, they have continued to assert that the plan is based on sound science.

“The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs looks forward to convening a working group to collaborate with legislators, community representatives and environmental stakeholders to discuss our science-based plan to relocate a small population of endangered species to Mount Zion Island in the Quabbin Reservoir without jeopardizing public safety or access to open space,” spokesman Peter Lorenz said in a statement.

Lesser said he sent a letter to Matthew Beaton, secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, in March to request a freeze in further plans to breed venomous rattlesnakes on Mount Zion, pending further legislative input.

That letter was co-signed by Quabbin-area legislators, including state Sen. Anne M. Gobi, D-Spencer, chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and state Reps. Thomas Petrolati, D-Ludlow, and Todd M. Smola, R-Warren.

The Quabbin Reservoir, the Boston metropolitan area’s water supply, is the largest inland body of water in Massachusetts and is a recreation spot for hiking, snowshoeing, hunting and fishing.