West Virginia state forests ask for public’s help with rattlesnake research

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BRUCETON MILLS, W.Va. – State forests in West Virginia have been working the last couple of years to collect data on where rattlesnakes, specifically timber rattlesnakes, are living. This information is to ensure the safety of both the reptile and the humans who may cross their paths.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is now seeking the public’s help in tracking rattlers in two snake-friendly state forests, Kanawha State Forest and Coopers Rock State Forest. This collection of data from the public will allow naturalists to collect snakes and put trackers in them so they can better see where these snakes live, and if they have high populations near where visitors trek.

Rattlesnakes are in need of conservation, and forest officials said they thought their removal would ultimately put the species in danger. This project has allowed officials, as well as guests, to obtain more knowledge on snakes, rather than relocating them immediately.

“Again, I think it’s just education, for the general public and for us. I will admit I knew nothing about snakes before this project. Now, I will stop and let them cross the road if I see one,” said Coopers Rock Superintendent Jan Dzierzak. “As for the DNR and the science behind it, we can know where are these snakes, where are they denning, you know where do they go. That way, we have a better idea of if we relocate them out off the campground, if we are actually posing more harm to the snake than if we let them be where they were.”

Marshall University graduate students are helping to study the data once the snakes are tracked. They were the students who began a translocation study, examining the effects of moving rattlers to reduce contact with humans as one of their top threats, in addition to habitat loss.

“This project started as a way to see if this relocation of the snakes was actually causing harm to them, and to find an alternative,” said Vincent Spaid with the DNR. “We also want to find a way to keep hikers and campers safe, but also cause the least amount of harm to the animals themselves.”

Coopers Rock State Forest has posted signs at each trail head, with more information and the number to call for visitors if they do come across a rattlesnake on the trail. The forests ask visitors to report any snake sightings in order to improve the data collection. That number to call is 304-612-7725.

For visitors who come across a snake at any time, the forests ask them to avoid capturing it and to report it. Visitors should slowly make their way around the snake and continue on. For more information, click here.

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