POWELL, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania stands out among states in the region as having done a good job of protecting the timber rattlesnake, a state official said.
James Chestney, the venomous species coordinator of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, says the reptile is endangered or threatened in other northeastern states.
By contrast, he told The (Towanda) Daily Review, the commonwealth has "a good population" of timber rattlesnakes, which he attributed to good management.
Chestney was working on Saturday at the annual rattlesnake hunt at Monroeton Rod & Gun Club in Bradford County, where seven timber rattlesnakes caught earlier in the day in Bradford and Sullivan counties were on display in a pen along with two copperhead snakes. The event also featured food, music, a horseshoe competition and other activities.
Chestney said the "big mountain section" of Pennsylvania's Northern Tier is "prime Pennsylvania timber rattlesnake (country). In fact, all five of Pennsylvania's organized rattlesnake hunts take place in the Northern Tier, including one this weekend in Monroe Township in Bradford County, he said
The area is also a center of a lot of natural gas drilling along the Marcellus Shale, and Chestney said the impact of drilling on the timber rattlesnake population is a concern.
The biggest threats to the population are development, which could include drilling, and "wanton killing" of the reptiles, but Chestney said companies have been working with the agency to protect the snakes.
The concern is that gas companies' construction of roads, pipelines, and well sites could destroy timber rattlesnakes' dens and gestation sites where female snakes gather during the summer to incubate their embryos and give birth.
When a permit is sought, the commission works with the company to preserve such sites, and a gas company might "slightly relocate" a facility to protect a known den, he said.
Timber rattlesnakes use the same den year after year, and it's possible that an existing den could have been used for thousands of years, Chestney said.
"Once a den is gone, it's gone," he said.