Conservationists in Massachusetts plan to establish a population of native venomous timber rattlesnakes on an uninhabited island, according to the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife).

Locals are so alarmed by the idea that officials are holding a public meeting on Tuesday to present their case and address concerns.

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“Not only has the timber rattlesnake declined in Massachusetts and throughout New England, it is now completely extirpated from Maine and Rhode Island,” according to the MassWildlife statement. “Humans are the greatest threat to (the) timber rattlesnake. In Massachusetts, the timber rattlesnake has lived continuously since long before European settlement, and has persisted in the face of sometimes intense persecution, but its decline over the past 30 years has been more severe than (at) any other time in history.”

Tom French, assistant director of MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program, and his colleagues propose to establish a small group of the rattlesnakes on Mount Zion, which is a large island closed to public access at the Quabbin Reservoir located in central Massachusetts. The reservoir is owned and managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Division of Water Supply Protection.

The plan is to raise juvenile snakes from Massachusetts in captivity by the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, R.I. After about two years they grow to a size that deters predators, and the young snakes would then be released on the island. French and his team say that only between one and 10 of the timber rattlesnakes would be released in any given year.

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To ease worried minds, they reminded that “in the southern Appalachians, a healthy rattlesnake population may be as high as 150 individuals, however here in Massachusetts, our populations are generally much smaller.”

Many locals, however, are not eagerly embracing the plan just yet. Peter Mallett, president of the Millers River Fishermen’s Association, was asked by the Boston Globe, “What could go wrong?” He replied: “Well, they swim.”

MassWildlife countered with this explanation: “While rattlesnakes are perfectly good swimmers, their survival depends on access to unusually deep hibernation sites, usually in a rock talus or boulder field below a ledge, or a deep fissure in bedrock. These special habitats are scarce on our landscape. Any snake that leaves the island whether by water or over the causeway will not be able to find a suitable hibernation site and if unable to return will die over the winter.”

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The concerns are not just about swimming rattlesnakes, though. In a letter to the editor of the Globe, Brookline resident Ann Carol Grossman wrote:

Clearly the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife learned nothing from the debacle resulting from the reintroduction of wild turkeys to the western part of the state. The birds are now the scourge of cities and suburbs all over metro Boston. I assume this was an unintended consequence, so I wonder what will be the unintended consequences of this new adventure involving breeding timber rattlesnakes. Maybe the turkeys and the rattlers will fight each other for the territory in our backyards.

Given the heated opinions on both sides of the argument, Tuesday’s meeting is bound to stir up emotions. In the meantime, the future of the region’s timber rattlesnake population hangs in the balance.

To read more about the species, check out this factsheet.

To learn about how snake venom can save lives, tune in to Discovery Channel for "Venom Hunters" on Wednesdays at 10 ET/9 C.