Rattlers have a bad rap

The third WildSafeBC presentation by local coordinator Laurie Grant was a talk about rattlesnakes, held Sept. 4 at the Grand Forks Library.

Jenny Coleshill (front left)

The third WildSafeBC presentation by local coordinator Laurie Grant was a talk about rattlesnakes, held Sept. 4 at the Grand Forks and District Public Library.

Grant invited local expert Jenny Coleshill, project coordinator of the Granby Wilderness Society, for a discussion about the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.

The pair described how to keep the community safe by avoiding conflict with the rattlesnake as well as how to protect the blue-listed snake and its habitat. The discussion included general and specific rattlesnake facts, video clips and photos taken of local rattlesnakes.

The library seated over 20 local adults, and a table of craft activities and snake colouring pages, animal tattoos and bookmarks were available for the kids.

Coleshill described her passion for snakes. She said the rattlesnake has been given a bad rap and to her knowledge only two bites have been reported in over 20 years her father has been a doctor in the community. Although rarely fatal, it is important to get immediate emergency attention if bitten by a rattlesnake.

She noted that snakes have been the target of human persecution and while sunning on the roadways become victim to vehicular death. B.C. rattlesnakes are considered “threatened” federally and have been “blue-listed” provincially and therefore, intentionally killing or capturing snakes is illegal under British Columbia’s Wildlife Act.

Coleshill also noted, “They are a very important part of the ecosystem and help to keep the rodent population in check. They do not go after prey, they prefer to wait for it to come to them.”

Although the males and non-pregnant females will come down into the valleys for more available food and water in spring, she has been sworn to secrecy for the whereabouts of local communal dens where the snakes spend the winter from October through April.

Grant described three key features you can look for to help you identify a rattlesnake:

1. The rattle at the end of the tail (babies are born with a “button” that develops another segment of the rattle each time it sheds).

2. The large triangular head and distinct neck.

3. The markings: large blotches with lighter “halos” around them. However, the rattlesnake has similar features to four other B.C. snakes and can easily be misidentified.

Grant noted that six of the nine known B.C. snakes may be found in the Boundary, including the only venomous snake in B.C., the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus). Characteristically shy and non-aggressive, their first response to disturbance is to stay camouflaged and to hide and their second response is to escape. They will usually only use a rattle when they are cornered, surprised or very threatened. Striking is usually a last resort.

What can people do to protect themselves from a bite?

•     Wear long loose pants that cover your legs, and high hiking boots that cover your ankles. This will help protect you should you accidentally step on a snake, causing it to bite.

•     Always be aware of where you put your feet and hands. Do not reach into piles of rocks or under logs or shrubs where snakes may be resting.

•     Protect your pet by keeping it on a leash when walking in rattlesnake habitat.

•     Hike with a partner. This is good practise when walking in any wilderness area.

As recreation and residence encroach in the rattler’s habitat, humans and their pets may come across snakes. It is suggested to avoid disturbing them and to keep pets on leash in known rattlesnake areas. It is a frightening experience for them, and even a harmless snake has teeth and can bite if frightened enough.

The best thing to do when coming across any snake is to:

•    Stop.

•    Allow the snake to move away.

•    If the snake doesn’t move OR if the snake is one body length away, move directly away from the snake.

•    Be aware of your surroundings—you don’t want to trip on a rock or a second snake.

•    Don’t try to pick one up—the biting reflex remains intact even after death.

Grant is working on getting signs made to identify local trails where rattlesnakes have been sighted.

You may not realize it, but there may be things around your home that are attracting snakes. Grant has stocked WildSafeBC rattlesnake brochures in many local venues, including the library, offering ideas for snake-proofing your yard. For more information on rattlesnake safety please visit https://wildsafebc.com/Rattlesnake/ .

If you find a rattlesnake in your garden, don’t panic. Rattlesnakes should only be moved if they are a direct threat. If you need assistance to move a rattlesnake you can call the provincial Conservation Officer Reporting Line at 1-877-952-7277 and locally you may contact Mayor Brian Taylor, office 250-442-8266, home 250-443-4177 or Vince Fabrick  250-443-1399 or 250-444-0365, or Jenny Coleshill, all of whom have experience with snake relocation.

Grant welcomes residents use the Wildlife Alert Reporting Program (WARP), www.WildSafeBC.com/warp to report snake and other wild animal sightings and also receive email alerts. After registering at WARP email grandforks@wildsafebc.com to become a part of the “Grand Forks Group” on the WARP.

Grant plans to have with monthly “Let’s Talk About” topics with local experts including electric fencing and bears, skunks and raccoons and, of course, deer. WildSafeBC provides conflict-reduction information for these and other species on their website https://wildsafebc.com/species/

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