BELCHERTOWN, Mass. (WWLP) – An online petition in opposition to a state plan establishing a rattlesnake colony on a Quabbin Reservoir island has gathered more than 1,000 supporters, while supporters of the proposal are circulating a petition of their own. The Change.org petition opposing the proposal has been up for a couple of weeks now. It asks Governor Charlie Baker to have the state make other arrangements for the endangered snakes, rather than settling them on Mount Zion, an island on the eastern side of the reservoir, near Petersham.
The petition expresses concern about the possibility of the rattlesnakes swimming away from the island and reaching shore, posing a danger to Quabbin visitors and nearby residents.
State officials have argued that timber rattlesnakes currently can be found in state parks and reservations, and there have been no incidents of attacks against hikers or campers. They have said that Mount Zion was chosen because the snakes need an isolated habitat in which to hibernate. Tom French of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife said it was unlikely that snakes would swim off the island.
The petition, however, expresses skepticism about state claims regarding the safety of the proposal.
“There are extensive concerns regarding these snakes, their transponders, their tracking history, dangers, destruction of current protected wildlife, and the ability to enjoy the area. We also feel that residents and others are not being given any voice regarding the project, but rather being given any voice regarding this project, but rather being given false information regarding this venomous snake,” the petition reads.
A public meeting on the rattlesnake plan was held Monday night at the Quabbin visitors’ center in Belchertown. Local residents packed the room for the hearing, where some expressed concerns similar to those outlined in the petition. French told 22News that the plan is well-researched.
“Public policies are not based on popularity. We are a science-based agency, and so it’s not a popularity contest,” French said.
Supporters of the state plan, meanwhile, are circulating a Change.org petition of their own, asking Baker and French to stay the course on the proposal. The pro-plan petition rebuts some of the claims made in the anti-plan petition, saying that there has been a lot of misinformation circulating about timber rattlesnakes, and their possible dangers.
“This project has a very real possibility of helping to save these animals from extinction. To say this project shouldn’t be carried out because of fear of these animals is foolish since you have more reason to fear the raccoons and foxes who tear your garbage apart then you do a shy rattlesnake who rather run they fight,” their petition reads.
So far, the proponents of the plan have gathered more online signatures- more than 1,400, to the opponents’ nearly 1,100.