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Holyoke City Council says no to Mount Tom as possible timber rattlesnake breeding site



Staff writer
Thursday, March 09, 2017

Conservationists in the state studying possible breeding sites for the endangered timber rattlesnake have added Mount Tom into the mix.

The popular hiking and recreation area located in Holyoke and Easthampton joins an island on the Quabbin Reservoir as two of several areas being considered to relocate and breed the rattlers, though no formal plan for Mount Tom has been proposed by state officials.

And just as at the Quabbin location, local officials near Mount Tom are raising concerns.

The Holyoke City Council earlier this week voiced unease about having the venomous snake’s population increase through a breeding program on the mountain. In a unanimous vote, council members went on the record with an order opposing possible efforts to use Mount Tom — already a natural habitat for the species — as a breeding location.

“I want to continue fighting for the residents of Holyoke, and to make sure they have the best quality of life possible,” said City Councilor James Leahy, who introduced the order, which was then sent to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Leahy said he’s concerned about the safety of families and hikers who frequent the area, and that the council was jumping in front of any plan to increase the number of timber rattlesnakes at Mount Tom.

However, there currently is no concrete plan to breed the serpents at Mount Tom. The office of state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, who is on the state’s Rattlesnake Review Working Group, confirmed that Mount Tom is being considered. But so too are “numerous” other sites, his office told the Gazette.

One other proposed site is Mount Zion, an island in the Quabbin Reservoir connected to land by a causeway. That idea was shelved last year, and now the rattler working group is tasked to review conservation strategies related to the rattlers and provide recommendations to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

State Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, who was copied on the order the Holyoke City Council sent to the governor, said he was initially concerned when he heard that Mount Tom is one of the sites being considered.

“It seems to me that the City Council is just being a little bit proactive, but there is no formal request that has come to me or anybody,” said Vega, a Holyoke native who represents the city as part of the Fifth Hampden District. 

He notes that groups like the Boys and Girls Club, which owns property on the mountain, voiced similar worries. “It’s on my radar.”

On the other side of Mount Tom State Reservation, Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux said it’s too early to make too much noise.

“I don’t have any proposal in front of me or any concrete information on it,” she said. “I think it’s premature because I’ve only heard through the media that it’s one of the areas being considered.”

“I’m hoping they’ll set up some informational meetings for the surrounding community and the public,” Cadieux said, adding with a laugh: “And for us!”

There are only five populations of the timber rattlesnake remaining in the state, according to the Rattlesnake Review Working Group’s website.

At least two of those are at a “very high risk of imminent extirpation,” or local extinction.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.