World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

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Richard F. Hoyer
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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Richard F. Hoyer » March 12th, 2012, 9:16 am

It's gratifying to see individuals now giving some thought to the issue of rattlesnake roundups.

I have never been to a roundup nor have it sought to dig into the issue in depth. So I am unaware of the arguments in favor of roundups and have only been exposed to the arguments (mostly emotional) against roundups. There is nothing inherently wrong with having feelings against a particular issue but I believe it is best that such feelings are tempered with some serious, rational examinations of the issue.

As time permits, I will make additional comments in response to the post that followed my last night's entry.

Richard F. Hoyer

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Richard F. Hoyer » March 12th, 2012, 12:04 pm

Mike R.
I am not certain on what basis you believe their should be a bag limit on rattlesnakes in Texas. If it is just your feeling that should be the case, that's okay but that isn't the way I operate. I need to have something of substance, facts, evidence, etc. on which to base my position on issues. But let me quickly add, you could be right about a need to establish bag limits for some species of rattlesnakes that are in reasonably high demand for commercial purposes (roundups).

So with respect to the issue of bag limits, here are some of my views for consideration. Having an understanding of the basic biology of a species can lead to reasoned estimates of numerical abundance, annual reproductive output, and thus the annual supply of a species. Making a determination of demand is more difficult but suspect some reasonable estimates of demand can be assessed, particularly in the case of the some species of rattlesnakes.

Whether the Texas wildlife agency has undertaken an examination of the above factors is unknown to me. And since I am not aware of the basic biology of the various species of rattlesnakes nor have a good handle on demand for those species, I have no way of assessing whether or not a bag (or possession) limit would be justified.

Oregon does not have any bag or possession limits on non-protected species of snakes. So you can come to Oregon and collect as many snake as you wish. In contrast, Calif. has a bag and possession limit on their non-protected species of snakes.

Which position one takes on that issue clearly will differ. My position is that wildlife agencies should not be wasting time and monetary resources on species for which no management is needed. For instance, the Rubber Boa and Western Terrestrial Garter Snake number in the millions in both states. In Oregon you can collect and possess as many as you wish of those species but in Calif., I believe the bag (and possession) limit is two.

I have never had anyone, including wildlife agency biologists, explain in rational terms the need to set bag limits on species that number in the million for which demand is either nil or infinitesimal in relation to supply. The species I have studied for over 45 years, the Rubber Boa is a typical example.

Now the above statements require an understanding of 1), the numerical abundance of species and 2), that species in equilibrium with the environment (relatively stable populations), yearly mortality approximates the mean annual reproductive output. As an example, if in Oregon or Calif., 5 million female Rubber Boas produce an average of 5 million neonates each year, an average of 5 million Rubber Boas die throughout the year.

If one can grasp these realities, then it should become apparent the nonsense of establishing bag and possession limits for such species. Anyone,---- explain to me why Calif. has a bag and possession limit of two Rubber Boas. Remember, Oregon has neither and does anyone really believe the Rubber Boa is in decline in Oregon due to recreational (or even commercial) collecting? And unfortunately, I have had at least two of my Rubber Boa study sites wiped out of the species by illegal commercial collecting.

Last, for those that wish to inform themselves on this issue, I urge you look up the following publication: 'Rattlesnake commercialization: long-term trends, issue, and implications for conservation' Lee A. Fitzgerald and Charles H. Painter Wildlife Society Bulletin 2000, 28 (1):235-253 The last I knew of, Dr. Fitzgerald was at Texas A & M University and Mr. Painter was with the New Mexico wildlife agency.

Richard F. Hoyer

P.S. Mike, son #2, Rich Jr. lives in Tucson. He is a professional birder conducting tours for Wings Inc. of Tucson. He has a reasonable understanding of the herps in AZ as well and you might consider looking him up, especially if you are a birder of sorts.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Richard F. Hoyer » March 12th, 2012, 1:17 pm

Phil:
I urge you revisit what your post. I am not able to understand your rational about introduced species as I did not mention anything of that nature. Thus, it should have been understood I was referring to the harvest of wildlife within their natural distributions. Thus, my referring to the harvesting of rattlesnakes, deer, ducks, rabbits, trout, etc. where they are native should have been understood. I should have left out pheasants as they are an introduced species.

If you truly believe my example of harvesting species of wildlife in their native habitats is an example of making a comparison between apples and oranges, so be it. But from my vantage point, the harvesting of rattlesnakes, deer, rabbits, trout, ducks, etc. in their native habitats clearly are parallel examples. The only difference is that in most states, snakes (including rattlesnakes), are classed as non-game wildlife whereas most states identify deer, rabbits, ducks, trout, etc. as game species.

As an aside, not all states list rabbits as game species. Oregon is such a state in which rabbits and hares are not managed by our wildlife agency and as such, just like the collecting (harvesting), of non-protected species of snakes, there is no closed season, bag, or possession limits on rabbits. I am a falconer and hunt rabbits with my Harris's Hawks so am very familiar with that aspect in Oregon.

As for the subject of introducing species into regions they do not naturally occur, that is an entirely separate issue and one with huge implications. In some instances such introductions seem to have been benign. But more often than not, such introductions have had negative implications for native species of wildlife.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by squinn » March 12th, 2012, 1:42 pm

I personally have never quite gotten to the point to understand why rattlesnakes are the sacred cow for herpers. The precedent of utilizing reptiles for food and product is already here. I rarely go through a couple weeks without eating some kind of herp, traditionally frog legs or gator tail, and although i have recieved an occassional negative reaction from a herper or two who's views are lets say a bit more radical than is typical it seems pretty much an established and accepted thing to eat certain herps. I don't understand the taboo herpers hold for rattlesnakes especially if it's not an endangered population. I also totally agree with the poster above that it seems completely inappropriate for a state to restrict harvesting of any species that is not threatened or declining. I also find it odd that the wholesale slaughter of a species through extemely ecologically unsound methods can be completely legal but putting that same animal in an aquarium in your living room turns you into a criminal (not that i really get why one would want a rattlesnake in their living room) To my memory i haven't crossed rattlesnake off a very long and to some strange culinary bucket list but certainly given the opportunity i will not hesitate to do so, in fact i probably wouldn't be opposed to sampling other species if enjoyed rattlesnake. I just wish the method of collection could be tweaked a bit, i don't really know if snakes suffer or feel pain in the same capacity mammals do but if like some people claim on here the gassing is still going on, it really needs to be stopped especially if there are laws on the books to prevent it.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Paul White » March 12th, 2012, 1:44 pm

It's mostly the treatment prior to death and the whole carnivale aspect of it that turn a lot of us off. I mean FFS, skinning them alive?

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by squinn » March 12th, 2012, 1:57 pm

Paul White wrote:It's mostly the treatment prior to death and the whole carnivale aspect of it that turn a lot of us off. I mean FFS, skinning them alive?
why do they skin them alive does the meat get tough and stringy or something if they aren't dressed immediately?

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Richard F. Hoyer » March 12th, 2012, 2:00 pm

Daryl:
As I mentioned in my first post, I'm not a fan of rattlesnake roundups. That is due to the impressions I have gotten over the years that such events are spectacles steeped in sensationalism and as you mentioned, the 'glorification' of killing the unwanted demon rattlesnake. I couldn't agree with you more if what you mention actually continues to be the norm with the collecting and handling of rattlesnakes.

The point of my post was from a biological perspective. The issue of the ethics involved with collecting, handling, killing, etc. was not my point but certain are very important considerations.

Such events would appear to be less offensive if in fact, the organizers educated the public with an image that rattlesnakes area an integral part of natural ecosystems. But because I have never attended a roundup nor delved into the issue, my current unfavorable impressions could be mistaken.

Richard F. Hoyer

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Paul White » March 12th, 2012, 4:44 pm

They really are godawful Richard :( I mean, just take every negative southern stereotype and amp it up to 11. And yeah there's the roundups

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by gbin » March 12th, 2012, 8:14 pm

So Sweetwater's rattlesnake round-up was this past weekend, huh? I always meant to go at least once while living here in Texas, just to get a firsthand glimpse of it, but that's unlikely now as I suspect we won't still be living in Texas this time next year. Oh well, I had real mixed feelings about the idea of going, anyway.

I'd like to see such things shut down, or at least greatly modified, because of the animal welfare issues - even downright animal cruelty issues - that I understand are rampant there. If and when they are shut down or modified, too, I suspect that will be the reason. There's rationale available for managing take of rattlesnakes (i.e. for implementing licensing and bag limit requirements) even if that rationale doesn't presently include a need to protect rattlesnake populations, but that's not really cause for stopping these events. Likewise, even though the gassing of burrows is an abhorrent practice that kills a lot of non-target animals and creates an environmental hazard, that's not going to stop these events, either; the practice has already been illegal for quite some time, after all. Animal welfare/cruelty, that's where efforts should target in my opinion.

Gerry

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Richard F. Hoyer » March 13th, 2012, 11:05 am

VICtort:
I believe you are correct that in most, if not all state, wildlife harvested with fishing and hunting licenses cannot be sold or bartered. Besides Texas, other states do have commercial licenses for the harvesting of herps. Louisiana and Florida have had commercial take on a large number amphibian and reptile species over many decades.

There also is commercial farming of reptiles (alligator ranching ,some turtles), and captive propagation of certain native species of herps that are sold commercially where
regulations in various states allowed such. Same applies to other species native birds, mammals, and fish (mallard ducks, raptors for falconry, elk and bison ranching, salmon and trout ranching / farms). So the commercial activities involving native rattlesnakes is by no means unique.

In my initial post, I was not attempting to pass judgment or consider the ethical considerations involved with the methods used to harvest rattlesnakes, their care, methods of killing, etc., but merely that the harvesting rattlesnake is actually no different from the harvesting of other commercial and game species --- that is, from a biological perspective.

If the annual supply of a species is far greater than the annual demand, then it makes no difference if the species being harvested is a fish, bird, mammal, amphibian, or reptile. In that manner, I was attempting to get others to understand the difference between a biological approach versus the emotional approach.

Richard F. Hoyer

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Natalie McNear » March 13th, 2012, 11:21 am

I think the main problem is that the harvest is simply unsustainable. The number of rattlesnakes brought to roundups every year has been declining for decades apparently, and the people catching them are having to travel farther and farther and still not getting as many snakes. That issue, in conjunction with the blatant abuse the snakes experience before they are killed, are the main things I have a problem with. If they're going to harvest rattlesnakes for commercial purposes, that's their prerogative and that's fine. But do it sustainably and as humanely as possible, and don't do it under a false veil of "science".

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Mark Brown » March 13th, 2012, 11:31 am

Natalie McNear wrote:I think the main problem is that the harvest is simply unsustainable. The number of rattlesnakes brought to roundups every year has been declining for decades apparently, and the people catching them are having to travel farther and farther and still not getting as many snakes. That issue, in conjunction with the blatant abuse the snakes experience before they are killed, are the main things I have a problem with. If they're going to harvest rattlesnakes for commercial purposes, that's their prerogative and that's fine. But do it sustainably and as humanely as possible, and don't do it under a false veil of "science".
Not doubting you, but do you have any documentation that the populations are declining? I've heard otherwise, though I don't have sources handy. I know that as recently as ten years ago, it was still possible to see over a hundred atrox in four hours time, not 30 miles from Freer, the site of one of the bigger roundups.

I would speculate that vehicular carnage accounts for many times more dead atrox than roundups possibly could. The same argument that herpers use to justify road collecting in west Texas also applies for atrox.....there are hundreds of thousands of square miles of atrox habitat that will never be touched by collectors, whether roundup people or herpers, and though there may be localized impacts on populations, I would be surprised if there were overall declines.

But, there needs to be documentation presented on any side of this discussion. In my experience in the south Texas scrub country, there are as many atrox as there ever were, but really large specimens have become fewer over the years. However, this is purely anecdotal and there are far too many variables to rely on anecdotal information.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Natalie McNear » March 13th, 2012, 11:51 am

I don't have anything regarding the area around Sweetwater, TX specifically, since there's not much info published about C. atrox populations in general (that I've seen). In the east, however, rattlesnakes roundups are thought to be contributing to the decline of C. adamanteus in surrounding areas: http://www.herpconbio.org/Volume_4/Issu ... s_2009.pdf

Of course the habitat in the range of C. adamanteus is more fragmented in many areas, but west Texas also tends to have a harsher climate that I'm willing to bet has a naturally lower density of snakes than in the humid eastern woodlands. Given things like drought, sparser vegetation, colder/longer winters, etc. in west Texas, it seems like it would take longer for rattlesnake populations to recover from the effects of roundups.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Phil Peak » March 13th, 2012, 11:52 am

Richard F. Hoyer wrote:Phil:
I urge you revisit what your post. I am not able to understand your rational about introduced species as I did not mention anything of that nature. Thus, it should have been understood I was referring to the harvest of wildlife within their natural distributions. Thus, my referring to the harvesting of rattlesnakes, deer, ducks, rabbits, trout, etc. where they are native should have been understood. I should have left out pheasants as they are an introduced species.

If you truly believe my example of harvesting species of wildlife in their native habitats is an example of making a comparison between apples and oranges, so be it. But from my vantage point, the harvesting of rattlesnakes, deer, rabbits, trout, ducks, etc. in their native habitats clearly are parallel examples. The only difference is that in most states, snakes (including rattlesnakes), are classed as non-game wildlife whereas most states identify deer, rabbits, ducks, trout, etc. as game species.

As an aside, not all states list rabbits as game species. Oregon is such a state in which rabbits and hares are not managed by our wildlife agency and as such, just like the collecting (harvesting), of non-protected species of snakes, there is no closed season, bag, or possession limits on rabbits. I am a falconer and hunt rabbits with my Harris's Hawks so am very familiar with that aspect in Oregon.

As for the subject of introducing species into regions they do not naturally occur, that is an entirely separate issue and one with huge implications. In some instances such introductions seem to have been benign. But more often than not, such introductions have had negative implications for native species of wildlife.

Richard F. Hoyer
Richard,

You original post was based upon generalizations and not specifics, thus my reply. Sure, there are some animals that are used as sport that in some instances are unregulated, but these are the exceptions and not the rule. If your argument is rattlesnakes are just another natural resource and no different than those animals which are traditionally harvested by the masses, then again, I believe this is a faulty comparison.

Comparing rattlesnake harvest to those few species which are completely unregulated and receive no protection what so ever may well be accurate to some extent. However, this in no way reflects the generality of fish and game species that are protected in a variety of ways including bag limits, methods of take, closed seasons, habitat management, size limits, protection of females for some species and so forth.


Phil

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Mark Brown » March 13th, 2012, 12:25 pm

Natalie McNear wrote:I don't have anything regarding the area around Sweetwater, TX specifically, since there's not much info published about C. atrox populations in general (that I've seen). In the east, however, rattlesnakes roundups are thought to be contributing to the decline of C. adamanteus in surrounding areas: http://www.herpconbio.org/Volume_4/Issu ... s_2009.pdf

Of course the habitat in the range of C. adamanteus is more fragmented in many areas, but west Texas also tends to have a harsher climate that I'm willing to bet has a naturally lower density of snakes than in the humid eastern woodlands. Given things like drought, sparser vegetation, colder/longer winters, etc. in west Texas, it seems like it would take longer for rattlesnake populations to recover from the effects of roundups.
I'm sure that the roundups in SE US have a much more significant impact on Crotalus populations than they do in Texas, as do habitat and environmental disturbances. Texas is an entirely different situation. While I'm not familiar with NW Texas, it's hard to imagine any place with denser populations of any large snake than exists with atrox in south Texas. I've personally seen over 60 atrox on a 15-mile stretch of road in less than two hours' time, and that's not really unusual, or at least it wasn't at that time. Now, drought has probably impacted those populations to some degree, but they will rebound. And bear in mind, the road where this occurred was only a few miles from Freer, site of one of the bigger roundups on the state. When you visit areas like that and see the incredible numbers of snakes, it's really tough not to think of the illegals who wander that country at night.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Natalie McNear » March 13th, 2012, 12:48 pm

They might be abundant in places now, but 20-30 years from now, who knows? Taking a lesson from the Passenger Pigeon, it seems we as a society should be smart enough by now to err on the side of caution and stop killing things wantonly before they become scarce. These population stresses can build for years and not show any serious effects, and then suddenly populations can collapse. For example, the C. adamanteus study mentions that the overall size of the snakes has been declining over the years. That's not much of a problem in areas where moisture is abundant, but it can be a disaster in drought-stricken areas. Smaller snakes need more water relative to their body size than large snakes, and therefore they are less drought-resistant. What happens when an area that has had nearly all of the "giant" rattlers have been killed for roundups experiences a severe drought, and 97% of the population is comprised of neonates, juveniles, and small adults that can't go that long without water? The population will experience a sudden and catastrophic decline, and be extremely vulnerable to further stresses (roundups, habitat fragmentation, etc.) during its long recovery period, if it can even recover at all to pre-drought levels.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Joe Farah » March 13th, 2012, 1:00 pm

Does anyone remember when this very same discussion came up last year? We started flirting with the idea of doing "redneck roundups" and then someone suggested using cheap beer and underage siblings as bait... At that time i felt like i was part of something big and that we stood for something. I just dont know anymore

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Mark Brown » March 13th, 2012, 1:11 pm

Believe me, I'm the last guy to take up for roundups. I've been to one, and it was an experience that I don't wish to ever repeat. But, in order to make any inroads in terms of changing things, there must be solid evidence that the roundups are having lasting effects. And, as I and others have commented, in Texas that probably won't be enough to get people to change.

The only ways that I can see to effect change in Texas is to either pass laws making it completely illegal, and that's not going to happen, or to fundamentally change the way that people here view rattlesnakes, and I'm very doubtful of that possibility. As I mentioned before, people here tend to look at rattlesnakes as deadly pests, and trying to convince them to let the snakes coexist is much like trying to convince them to let fire ants hang around their yards. In the cities you'll find enlightened folks who might look at things differently, but even that's rare. Virtually everyone who has lived here for any length of time has had or knows someone who has had a bad run-in with a rattlesnake, and it's hard to generate much sympathy or empathy for an animal that killed your dog or sent your nephew to the hospital. It's just a widespread mindset and changing that will be a tough task.

And Joe, it seems that this discussion comes up just about every year, and not just on this forum. These roundups have been going on since long before any of us were born and discussions about ending them have, as well. As much as I deplore what goes on with the roundups, I'm not optimistic about significant change. From what I've seen and heard, my suggestion would be to start with baby steps - try to get them to stop gassing dens, and then work with them to try to get them to stop killing the snakes that they do collect. The fact that some roundups have quit killing the snakes and have, apparently, remained economically valuable to the local communities provides an example that can be used. But to go in and demand that they stop, especially using threats and belligerence, will accomplish nothing but to make life harder on the herp hobby, and we're already having a pretty tough time.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Richard F. Hoyer » March 13th, 2012, 1:25 pm

Ugh:
Daryl mentioned the prospect of species being able to sustained their populations in the face of decades of harvesting. To possibly make any informed judgment one way or the other, one needs to have information relating to the supply and demand for any targeted species. If you don't have a handle on both figures, I suggest it is unwise to be critical.

There is a simply method available in which to assess a ball park estimate of the overall numerical abundance (supply) of the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in Texas. And the paper I cited by Fitzgerald and Painter (in a prior post) contains information on demand (harvest data), for three roundup events once of which is the Sweetwater roundup..

To arrive at a reasoned estimate of overall numerical abundance of the WDR in Texas, one needs information on the distribution of the species in Texas and estimate of the mean density of the species throughout its distribution in the state. With such information, it is possible to execute a simply area X density model to arrive at a ball park estimate of overall numerical abundance. That figure can then be compared with the harvest data in order to reach a reasoned position as to whether or not the annual removal of the species by roundups will likely have any negative impact on the species' overall population in Texas.

From the map showing the distribution of the WDR in my Stebbin's field guide, it appears that the WDR occurs in about 4/5th of Texas. Texas has 285,896 square mile according to my old dictionary. Snake densities are reported in snake per hectare (ha) with a hectare being 100 meters X 100 meters or a bit larger than a square football field. There are 259 ha. per sq. mile so the area of Texas contains 74,047,064 hectares

Since the WDR occupies about 80% if Texas, the above figure needs to be reduced by 20% which would the represent the distribution of the species in Texas or 59,237,651 ha.
In order to prevent overstating numerical abundance, it is imperative to use very conservative figures for both the estimated distribution and a species and for the mean density use in such calculations.

Clearly, not all of the 59,237,651 hectares will contain WDRs across its distribution in Texas. Now I know nothing but the species and where it occurs in Texas so I am going to reduce the above proposed distribution by 2/3rds or 67% which leaves an estimated 19,548,424 ha. of habitat occupied by the WDR in Texas.

I do not have access to any life history study of the WDR that may have reported density figures for the species. I do have a table of snake densities from Dr. Harold De Lisle. The following are mean densities of snake / ha. for three rattlesnake populations: Crotalus cerastes - 0.71: C. viridis lactosus - 0.49: C. viridis oregonus - 0.68

With the WDR being larger than the above three rattlesnakes, I might assume the mean density of the WDR would be somewhat less. So I will choose what I believe to be a reasonably conservative figure of 0.20 WDR / ha. over the above estimated area of occupied habitat of the species in Texas.

Estimated area of occupied habitat: 19,548,424 ha. X estimated mean density of 0.2 = 390,968 --- estimated mean number of WDR inhabiting Texas.

For those who are more knowledgeable and consider either the area of occupied habitat and / or density figures are not conservative enough or too conservative, you can adjust up or down accordingly and come up with your own estimate of numerical abundance.

The paper by Fitzgerald and Painter I cited in a prior post contains some harvest data on the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake for three roundups in which the WDR is involved, two in Texas and one in New Mexico. The highest number of WDR taken in one year at the Sweetwater roundup was 553 in 1974.

I wonder just how many WDR are killed annually across Texas by individuals yielding a hoe, shovel, 22, shotgun, etc. and how that number compares to the number of WDRs harvested for all of the rattlesnake roundups in Texas each year.

There are a host of other considerations with such factor that could provide additional insight such as the mean, annual reproductive output of the species. But with the above figures, even if off to some degree, should give pause to anyone that believes collecting Western Diamondback Rattlesnake for either roundup or recreational purposes is having a negative impact on the overall population of the species in Texas.

Last, I apologize to 'ugh' as it is not my intent to be super critical. Over the years, there have been a host of individuals that have expressed deep concern over their assumed negative impact of recreational collecting of snake populations. Not only have a number of herper expressed those concerns, such concerns have been voiced by both professional herpetologists and by wildlife agency biologists who should have known better.. A number of year ago I encountered these very concerns on the Kingsnake forum and then on the
nationwide and AZ PARC (Partners in Amphibian and Retile Conservation) ListServ web sites. Clearly, none of those individuals had bothered to do their 'homework'.

Richard F. Hoyer

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Joe Farah
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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Joe Farah » March 13th, 2012, 1:34 pm

Its frustrating. I don't see them ever coming to an end unless there is legislation enacted to ban them.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Mark Brown » March 13th, 2012, 1:41 pm

Joe Farah wrote:Its frustrating. I don't see them ever coming to an end unless there is legislation enacted to ban them.
I think you're right on the money. In Texas, I see that as an impossible hurdle, unfortunately. Maybe one day, but not any time soon. At the moment, we'd better focus on the legislation being enacted across the country to shut down herpetoculture.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Joe Farah » March 13th, 2012, 1:46 pm

Mark Brown wrote: At the moment, we'd better focus on the legislation being enacted across the country to shut down herpetoculture.
well there's no shortage of that to focus on. it seems like everywhere i go (online) everyone is all up in arms over a new bill

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by stlouisdude » March 13th, 2012, 3:21 pm

To argue that this behavior should be tolerated because extirpation has not in fact happened is akin to saying we should have tolerated racism in Topeka since all kids received an education. There are moral concerns in a civilized society that go beyond whether or not something *can* be done, it is also whether or not it *should* be done. We can do lots of things that we have collectively decided should never be done and are therefore not permissible. As a side benefit, the moral aspect does not require proving risk to any associated population. The event could be 100% sustainable and still reasoned against. Someone mentioned that some antics may have been "cleaned up", we should be sure that the facts are documented and recent.


I'll be the first to admit I have zero knowledge of previous attempts to make changes at Texas Roundups, but A&M is a well known Communications school and it would be a shame not to seek assistance there. What can be done? There are many well tested theories on attitude change. A theory can be selected for use and the theory can help inform us of how we might best act. For example, we may decide to use Social Judgment Theory. For our target audience, we would determine not only their current beliefs but how far from those beliefs they'd be willing to stretch (latitude of acceptance). A message toward the far end of that spectrum would likely produce the maximum attitude change. A message too extreme would not be effective and a message not pushing far enough will also be less effective. It's been said that more people are driven to their beliefs than from them! I would venture to guess that the majority of the country is morally opposed to this behavior. Even if they were not, a minority does have the power to shift majority opinion. This very behavior has been studied. One thing to note is that such outcomes are most likely when the minority group presents a united front. It will make our jobs much harder if well meaning biologists seem to refute the idea that roundups should be banned/altered/whatever by bringing up the sustainability aspect once an effort to produce change has been launched. While biologists are important sources of information, they may not be the first choice for addressing and producing change in a human audience.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Mark Brown » March 13th, 2012, 3:51 pm

stlouisdude wrote:For our target audience, we would determine not only their current beliefs but how far from those beliefs they'd be willing to stretch (latitude of acceptance). A message toward the far end of that spectrum would likely produce the maximum attitude change. A message too extreme would not be effective and a message not pushing far enough will also be less effective. It's been said that more people are driven to their beliefs than from them! I would venture to guess that the majority of the country is morally opposed to this behavior. Even if they were not, a minority does have the power to shift majority opinion. This very behavior has been studied.
I really like this. Assuming that I'm following you accurately, I think that a concerted effort by select enthusiasts from the local area(s) where the roundups take place, to focus on young people and work at changing their attitudes, could really have the potential to bear fruit. Educational talks given in schools and to youth organizations, demonstrating how interesting, beneficial and vulnerable these animals are, coupled with some publicity, if possible, could go a long way toward changing the way next generation views rattlesnakes' role in nature. Young people are much less likely to have deeply entrenched hatred of snakes and are generally more open to new ideas, and there's the added benefit to them of doing something that's counter to what their folks might do.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by gbin » March 13th, 2012, 4:17 pm

Mark Brown wrote:I'm sure that the roundups in SE US have a much more significant impact on Crotalus populations than they do in Texas...
It seems very likely to me, too, that Texas' rattlesnakes are in much better shape than is the eastern diamondback in the southeastern U.S., especially given the tremendous differences between these in terms of remaining habitat availability and integrity.

I would also caution anyone against taking anyone else's word for it that "such-and-such an activity appears to be harming so-and-so a wild animal population," for two reasons: 1) Even scientists, especially when they attend to conservation issues that they care about, will sometimes go beyond the data and instead rely on their personal impressions/feelings about what's going on - i.e. they stop being scientists with respect to that issue. For example, animal collection for pets or live trade is often viewed as being harmful without even scant anecdotal observations supporting this view - and the number of instances where such collection has actually been demonstrated to be harmful is exceedingly rare, indeed. 2) No law is going to be changed - and I would argue, nor should it be - based on what someone merely thinks or feels is going on. Cold, hard data are needed to persuade people in positions of authority; scientists in particular should insist upon it as the basis for their expressed opinions.

I would further caution anyone against taking seriously any dataset that combines kill harvest and live collection, and even from drawing parallels between the two in less formal settings. They're simply far too different in scope and methods, and therefore in potential impact, for them to be grouped. Indeed, even though many rattlesnakes are killed as a result of round-ups, those obnoxious once-a-year redneck festivals are a far cry in terms of potential population effect from what was done to passenger pigeons. It actually undermines arguments against rattlesnake round-ups to attempt to equate them to even a small degree. It's similar to saying in an internet argument that someone is (like) a Nazi; you just lose credibility.

I'm not trying to pick on anyone, but only to point out some of these things (and to add my voice in support for others who have already pointed them out).

I suspect, though, that the animal welfare/cruelty issue could really have some legs. Outrageous activities with enduring popularity among rednecks have been banned before for this reason, e.g. dog fights and cock fights. Granted rattlesnakes have less appeal to the average person than do most other animals, but the principle still applies and is easy to get across.

Gerry

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by VanAR » March 13th, 2012, 5:39 pm

I suspect, though, that the animal welfare/cruelty issue could really have some legs. Outrageous activities with enduring popularity among rednecks have been banned before for this reason, e.g. dog fights and cock fights. Granted rattlesnakes have less appeal to the average person than do most other animals, but the principle still applies and is easy to get across.
Agreed. It blows my mind that the PETA people don't pee themselves over the things that go on at roundups.

Harvest sustainability can be a difficult thing to assess in the best of times, but there are very little data available for Texas and Oklahoma snake populations, and I imagine it would be equally difficult to find control (non-harvested) populations with which to compare changes in population size or mean population metrics (body size, reproductive output/frequency, body condition, etc.). In actuality, I can't even think of that many studies that have investigated any of these traits in any C. atrox populations outside of Arizona, and even those studies are few and far between compared to the work that has been done on C. horridus. Anecdotally, the growthrates I've guesstimated for the TX C. atrox based on rattle profiles are quite high- I wouldn't be surprised if females are sexually mature by their 3rd or 4th year (compared to 5-8+ in many C. horridus), and I'd guess that they have similarly high reproductive output/frequency. Given how efficient rattlesnakes are at turning food into more rattlesnake, they may be able to sustain a pretty heavy harvest as long as there are good rodent populations nearby.

That's all a guess though. I agree with some of the others that roads could have a much more continuous impact that could be more worrisome than roundups themselves. The good news is that there are quite a few roads out there in TX atroxland that are remote and not especially well-traveled. The few I've roadcruised in the past always had pretty high ratios of live atrox to dead atrox.

Van

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by gbin » March 13th, 2012, 5:54 pm

VanAR wrote:... It blows my mind that the PETA people don't pee themselves over the things that go on at roundups.
It does seem like something they should naturally take more than a little interest in, doesn't it? I keep hoping they (or better yet the relevant city, county or state agency) will show an interest in shutting down a local pet store that does really terribly by both the live animals they sell and the people they sell them to, too, but no luck so far. PETA seems too busy doing stupid stuff to be genuinely useful for anything.
VanAR wrote:...I agree with some of the others that roads could have a much more continuous impact that could be more worrisome than roundups themselves...
And let's not forget agricultural and other industrial machinery, where it interacts with Texas' rattlesnakes in the field. Still, there's just an awful lot of good habitat remaining out there that's presently under little or no threat.

Gerry

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Bill Love » March 13th, 2012, 6:00 pm

I haven't finished reading all 4 pages of replies yet, but I thought Daryl Eby's short film script idea on the first page was brilliant. That's the kind of thing that could grab a lot of attention via YouTube and elsewhere to gain sympathy / support from folks not tuned into the snakes' plight in general. The only thing I'd add would be another quick clip at the end to show, NOT in a gruesome way, that rattlesnakes are the natural control of rabbits and that their shrinking numbers and sizes are likely contributing to increased numbers of rabbits -- maybe of an atrox lunging at a scruffy rabbit nibbling crops at the edge of an agricultural field. I'd make the effort to travel and assist in the creation / production of such a project if a competent filmmaker got on board to actually film it.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Mark Brown » March 13th, 2012, 6:02 pm

VanAR wrote:I imagine it would be equally difficult to find control (non-harvested) populations with which to compare changes in population size or mean population metrics
gbin wrote:Still, there's just an awful lot of good habitat remaining out there that's presently under little or no threat.
That's the good news and the bad news rolled up in one. You'll have a very difficult time just getting access to land in Texas on which to conduct studies, especially if you're honest and inform the landowner of your goals (assuming your goals are to stop roundups and indiscriminate snake killing). There's virtually no public land on which to do studies so you're at the mercy of landowners, most of whom will tell you to shut the gate as you leave.

On the other hand, all those hundreds of thousands of inaccessible land mean that, aside from the random interactions with the property owners (and occasional livestock) the snakes are safe from most anything.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by gbin » March 13th, 2012, 7:50 pm

Yup, private land ownership is both the blessing and curse of wildlife conservation in Texas. Most species appear to be in pretty good or even great shape, and there's clearly still lots of habitat out there, but actual data on either can be hard to come by.

My wife has spent much of the past several years working on ocelot conservation. Imagine going to the King (or pretty much any other) Ranch and saying "Excuse me, I'd like to survey your property for this incredibly endangered spotted cat species and its habitat..." They likely wouldn't allow you the time to get back to the gate, and if by chance you make it that far it probably wouldn't be the best idea to stop to close it. (Ok, I exaggerate. A lot of those folks are pretty conservation-minded, themselves. But they're also acutely aware of their land ownership and rights concerning same.)

Gerry

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by chris_mcmartin » March 14th, 2012, 1:54 am

Roundups are not going to be "turned off" or "disappear" overnight. There is too much money to be made for the communities in which they still exist.

The REAL questions are:

Would you be OK with a rattlesnake-themed event continuing, albeit in altered form?

Are you comfortable with an event where live rattlesnakes can be viewed, and rattlesnake products can be purchased/consumed? For example, you could pay to see a live snake exhibit (in proper enclosures, not being stepped on, gotten-into-sleeping-bags-with, posed-with-mouths-sewn-shut, etc), buy a hatband or belt, and even eat fried rattlesnake. The difference between this option and the current event is that the "cruelty" aspect is removed (attendees can't kill/skin their own snakes, all slaughter happens behind-the-scenes).

I'd venture a guess that the economic detriment to the local community would be very small, in that the attendance (and admission fees) would still be up, because of the myriad other attractions available, at least for an event like Sweetwater. I'd be curious to see how many snakes are actually killed/skinned by attendees. If the high-year harvest was only 553, and ALL were killed on-site by people who paid admission, then paid the fee for the snake on top of that, it's still likely less than 1% of attendees doing so.

If by eliminating the "participatory" (i.e. "cruelty") aspect reduces attendance by only 1%, that attendance could easily be made up by an influx of more "eco" minded attendees who otherwise stay away from such events.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by gbin » March 14th, 2012, 6:22 am

That seems a reasonable approach, Chris.

For my part, sure, if the animals at rattlesnake round-ups are collected in an environmentally safe manner, treated humanely while they're alive and killed in a reasonably quick and effective way, I'm ok with these events. Heck, I don't even care whether the killing and skinning is done behind the scenes or as a public show. (If livestock slaughterhouses want to start inviting the public to watch their work and some people want to go enjoy such a gory spectacle, too, that's ok with me as well.) It's decidedly not my cup of tea, but to each his/her own.

I think we'd have to be mindful that these folks are always going to want to put on a show, though, and not just a display. When gauging what does and doesn't amount to animal cruelty, I'm afraid we'll have to accept some things that might bother us a fair deal but in reality probably don't bother the snakes much or at all. Indeed, I would bet that the greatest amount of real animal cruelty that occurs at these events occurs out of the public's view and would only be caught by inspectors looking for such (and inspectors should be looking for such, even under today's laws).

Gerry

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by VICtort » March 14th, 2012, 7:35 am

Some creative thinking here...the USFWS and NOAA etc., government agencies put observerers aboard tuna vessels and Alaskan trawlers to monitor by catch, i.e porpoise, king crab, non-target fish etc. This was to gather accurate data and to assess health of the fisheries and the by catch species, and to help keep the fishermen honest. They were monitors....and not always popular though some "got along" better than others. Some crews can be "surly"...

I wonder if the round ups could or would tighten up the rule a bit and observers could join the "hunt teams" and keep an eye on them and make sure gasoline is not used etc.? I am told cheating is flagrant by an aquaintance who has attended these roundups with the intent of winning the purse $, that guys obviously are caching snakes, apparent by the snakes dehydrated state etc. I think being an observer would be a no fun and possibly dangerous job, so it should probably be an officer of some kind. We need them to be motivated to do what I think is their job(wildlife protection)...it seems the priority has been protecting the round up folks from the more "radical" protestors instead.

As usual, Chris McMartin has some practical ideas, they should be enforcing the rules already on the books. Maybe we should challenge in a professional way the regulating agencies...when is the last time a warden made a case on these guys? Do they inspect the hunt teams, assure they are not in possession of gasoline? Are these hunt teams making unlawful "takes" under the ESA definitions of protected species such as gopher tortoises or indigos? Do they check for licenses and assure lawful method of take, as they do west Texas L. alterna hunters and various sportsmen fishing and hunting? Are USFWS agents making sure the gall bladders are not being sold to Asian pharmacopias? Or would that be legal under the apparently very liberal rules of the permits in Texas?

What about the animal control people, certainly there are laws regulating animal neglect, and cruelty (neglect cases are easier to make than cruelty)? I think those against these round-ups need to put the regulatory and LE and politicians in a defensive position, make them justify this practice and make them prove they are doing a responsible job... Do the tax people take an interest? Is the IRS monitoring the sales and getting their share? Maybe we could challenge the agencies and make them show the statistics they should be gathering. i.e. total sales, total take, total lbs. and total dollars generated by the sales etc. Is the average size and weight of snakes declining over time...the classic sign of overharvest in fish? This data should be widely available, the snakes after all are a public resouce, and I don't want it squandered on special interest groups...I don't know if that is applicable, but it is worthy of study. I will indeed read Hoyer's suggested reference and I always respect his opinion.

Data seems hard to come by, but I read this in The Boiler Plate Rhino: "The total at Sweetwater that year (1988) was 11, 709 lbs., and Sweetwater is just one roundup among dozens." (Quammen, 2000, pg. 21) continuing, "we had 5,000 lbs. of snakes turned in before noon the first morning,", suggesting a lot of stashing is going on or the dens are very productive...?

I wonder if that is a significant take of a medial to upper trophic level predator in an ecosystem? That this is lawful is really hard to comprehend, and as so many others have pointed out, it is due in part to the loathesome positon of rattlesnakes in SW culture...this stuff would not be tolerated in Bass tournaments (the cheating), nor with mammals or birds (the cruelty and neglect). We need friendly representation of rattlesnakes in cartoons and Hollywood movies...which is apparently where the masses learn about the flora and fauna they share the environment with and form their emotional opinions....

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by Paul White » March 14th, 2012, 7:37 am

Are you comfortable with an event where live rattlesnakes can be viewed, and rattlesnake products can be purchased/consumed? For example, you could pay to see a live snake exhibit (in proper enclosures, not being stepped on, gotten-into-sleeping-bags-with, posed-with-mouths-sewn-shut, etc), buy a hatband or belt, and even eat fried rattlesnake. The difference between this option and the current event is that the "cruelty" aspect is removed (attendees can't kill/skin their own snakes, all slaughter happens behind-the-scenes).
Hell I'm OK with instructing people how to humanely kill them, and letting them do so. It may be a bit macabre but....well, like gbin said, if slaughterhouses want to let the public tour them, why not? It's just the massive cruetly involved in a lot of them that really bothers me. Crap, if breeders want to sell them dirt cheap atrox babies to be humanely killed, that wouldn't bother me.

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Re: World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up

Post by keown » April 1st, 2012, 9:53 am

Mark Brown asked me several weeks ago in this thread if the rattlesnake roundup was still being held every year in Taylor, Texas. At the time I was not sure, not having heard anything about it for a couple of years. BUT know we have an definite answer to Mark's question. Seems that it is still going on and one of their "experienced snake handlers" got nailed on his chest.

Here is the news clip: http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/local/aust ... snake-bite


-Gerald

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