Massachusetts Gets a Poison Snake Island

Residents of towns on the banks of the idyllic Quabbin Reservoir are not entirely thrilled with their new neighbors: 200 goddamn poisonous rattlesnakes.

02.24.16 2:33 AM ET

Residents in the hamlets that surround Mount Zion in Massachusetts are torn. They love nature, but they’re not sure they want an island near their hometown filled with a bunch of poisonous snakes.

“I’m guessing, but I’d say [the amount of people in town who want an island nearby filled with hundreds of venomous snakes] is totally split,” Daily Hampshire Gazette Editor-in-Chief Larry Parnass told The Daily Beast.

Let’s back up.

The Massachusetts’ Division of Fisheries and Wildlife wants to dump up to 200 endangered timber rattlesnakes onto an island in the Quabbin Reservoir, which sits between eight towns in central Massachusetts.

They are, according to Massachusetts Wildlife Foundation’s Tom French, the species that has “declined the most of any of our other listed species in modern times.” The timber rattlesnake is “imperiled the most,” he said. If they’re gonna be saved, they need to be saved now.

Problem is, Island With a Bunch of Goddamn Poisonous Rattlesnakes on It does not sound like a particularly good tourist destination. Plus, there’s an access road to Island With a Bunch of Goddamn Poisonous Rattlesnakes. Plus, the goddamn poisonous snakes can swim, but “probably” not far enough to make it to the mainland.


“A lot of people … don’t think public money should ever be spent on something that is an enemy of people,” said Parnass.

But the governor already signed off on it.

“Some of the early letters said things like, ‘If Boston people think this is such a good idea, why don’t they let ’em loose in the statehouse?’” said Parnass.

Those letters he’s referring to are the ones he received at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. In addition to being editor-in-chief, he also oversees the Opinion page and residents have provided a lot of color since the snake story’s inception, and even more so since it became a borderline national news story.

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(See: “This thing is like pole-vaulting over a mouse turd. There’s some people who want to make it of some monumental interest that is not deserving of the attention that it’s getting.”)

Because, you know, Goddamn Poisonous Rattlesnake Island.

But here’s the sad, disgusting truth: It’s probably the right thing to do.

“You hear the state wants to incubate a colony of rattlesnakes and you think, ‘Is this The Onion or what?’ But the truth is, the science is pretty settled on this,” Parnass said. “It comes down to, ‘Do you want a species to go extinct on your watch?’”

After all, nobody’s going to stumble upon the island without trespassing or messing with the water supply. (The Quabbin is part of that.) There are some more timber rattlesnakes up in nearby Mount Tom and they don’t tend to interact with people as it is, they just nestle on loose rocks on the cliffsides.

“In terms of public safety, it’s really a no-brainer,” said Parnass.

Still, the public had a chance to comment on Rattlesnake Island on Tuesday night, this time at a nearby high school in Orange, Massachusetts. Parnass said he’s heard every side of the debate already, inside the pages of his paper.

One letter to the editor from last week, he said, brought up a very good point. Say Rattlesnake Island springs a leak and there’s goddamn poisonous rattlesnakes everywhere, from Orange to Belchertown, from sea to shining sea. What happens next?

“Rattlesnakes feed on rodents; mice are the incubators of ticks and their diseases,” writes Northampton’s Becky Shannon. “It is the rodents that must be dealt with if we are to reduce the prevalence of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.”

After all, goddamn tick-borne illnesses are up 12 percent in Massachusetts since 2012.

Maybe 200 poisonous rattlesnakes isn’t enough.