Timber Rattlesnake Stocking Never Happened
Over the years I have received dozens of emails and listened to many callers on my radio show ask about the alleged timber rattler stocking in the Pineywoods.
The story below is one I wrote for the Port Arthur News back in 2006 and shows the origins of the legend.
Secret rattler stocking never happened
By Chester Moore, Jr.
Port Arthur News Outdoors Editor
Last week, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials released their 2005 wildlife research highlights to the public.
Part of that research involves a study of timber rattlesnakes in East Texas that involves capturing and fitting with radio telemetry gear, rattlers in the Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area along the Trinity River.
Once TPWD officials fit them with transmitters, they will release them back into the wild to study their movements and habitat preference.
This has already rekindled an old “urban legend” of sorts, which is that wildlife officials have stocked rattlesnakes in East Texas.
The story goes something like this.
In a secret effort to replenish diminishing timber rattlesnake stocks, government officials have been stocking captive-bred specimens of the venomous reptiles at various locations within Texas' National Forest land.
It is unclear as to which government agency is responsible but some reports indicate it could be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) while another rumor has it linked to a clandestine TPWD project.
I say "story" but the truth is I have heard numerous tales of rattlesnake restoration efforts in the pineywoods of East Texas. One gentleman even told me his uncle's brother-in-law had some released next to his farm near Crockett. Hundreds of them.
Where did these stories originate?
Well, rattlesnakes have technically been "released" into certain areas in the pineywoods. However, scientists did not breed them in captivity and they are not part of some secret restoration effort.
These "released" rattlesnakes are simply ones that were captured as part of a radio-telemetry study conducted by officials with the U.S. Forest Service. Timber rattlesnake were captured in the wild, fitted with radio transmitters and released back into the wild so researchers could track their movements.
There never has been a timber rattlesnake stocking program in Texas or anywhere else for that matter.
According to TPWD endangered species specialist, Ricky Maxey, the rumors have been floating around since the 1990s.
"I used to work in the Big Thicket area out of Beaumont and we used to get questions about rattlesnake stockings frequently. And it seems the rumors are still pretty rampant," Maxey said.
"Someone could have seen Forest Service officials capturing the snakes or releasing the ones fitted with transmitters and the rumor could have started there. Then again, it could be the case of a true story getting less and less truthful as it's told," he said.
As noted earlier in the story, the new radio telemetry project conducted by TPWD’s John Himes and Hayden Haucke has already fueled rumors of a rattlesnake stocking.
I received an email from a reader who said he heard there would be “another” rattler stocking along the Trinity River.
And he was not happy.
I have hunted in East Texas all of my life and have never seen a timber rattlesnake. Maxey had only seen three before getting involved with the radio telemetry study and said most outdoorsmen will likely never encounter one.
"They're a shy, reclusive snake that doesn't mix well with urban development like some other species," Maxey said.
That means you should not expect to see a timber rattlesnake on your next outdoor excursion. It could happen, but it is not likely.
To most people that is probably a good thing.