2016-06-28 / Front Page

Talks resume about rattlesnake rules

Commission to consider proposal for restrictions on ‘gassing’
By JEFF LOWE
Staff Writer


The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission is considering whether to implement a ban on “gassing” rattlesnakes -- or capturing them by spraying gasoline fumes to flush the reptiles from their hiding places. 
PHOTO BY DEREK MOY The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission is considering whether to implement a ban on “gassing” rattlesnakes -- or capturing them by spraying gasoline fumes to flush the reptiles from their hiding places. PHOTO BY DEREK MOY After tabling a similar proposal in 2014, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission plans to develop a proposal for a statewide ban on gassing rattlesnakes.

TPWD Wildlife Diversity Program Director John Davis has been given the task of developing the first draft for the proposed regulation. It will go through several phases of review before a final proposal goes before the commission, Davis said.

The proposal is expected to be turned in by the time of the commission’s meeting in November.

If approved, the regulation would not take effect immediately, Davis said. The commission has given instructions that the proposal should include a delayed implementation date of two years.

TPWD also has directed Davis and others that any proposed changes should include an exemption for properties within a certain distance of a man-made structure, to protect human safety.

Apart from those instructions, Davis said it is premature to comment on specific points that he will include in the proposal.

Davis added that he probably would write the initial draft alone or with one other person from the TPWD Legal Division.

Gassing is a common method of flushing snakes from their dens by spraying gasoline fumes into burrows, crevices or other areas where the reptiles live.

Once captured, snakes may be exterminated, used in rattlesnake round-ups such as Lometa’s annual Diamondback Jubilee, or “milked” for venom, which is used in antivenin products.

Davis said he does not believe the proposed changes TPWD is considering would apply to any species other than rattlesnakes.

TPWD is concerned that gassing snakes affects non-target species, such as spiders and other creatures that live in caves and crevices.

Environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Texas Snake Initiative filed a petition to TPWD asking it to ban the gassing of snakes.

When the issue was discussed in 2014, the proposed ban faced strong opposition from ranchers, snake hunters and some property-rights advocates.

Criticism of the proposed ban includes concerns that it will make it more difficult to capture snakes and obtain venom.

A question-and-answer article on the TPWD website contended that a ban would not threaten the supply of antivenin, because “most rattlesnake venom used in medical research and the production of antivenin is produced by laboratories that maintain captive colonies of rattlesnakes… .”

The article also stated that no studies show a snake gassing ban would cause an overabundance of rattlesnakes.

Davis mentioned several alternatives to gassing, including funnel traps, traps that use one way doors and using drift fences to guide snakes into traps.

Snake hunters also sometimes use cover objects such as tin or plywood to attract rattlesnakes. Hunters can then flip the object to uncover and capture the snakes.

Snakes also can be captured when they are sunning or when they leave their dens to begin warming.

If the draft rules for a gassing ban make it to the November meeting, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission has several options it can take.

The commission could dismiss the proposal and decide not to act; request some of the wording be changed and ask staff to present it again with revisions; ask for it to be published for public comment; or accept the proposal as is.

If it is accepted, the proposed rule is published in the Texas Register.

The Parks and Wildlife Commission has authority to set legally binding regulations for means of take, Davis said, and legislative action is not required in order to pass the ban.

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