Hunters in Texas can legally pump gasoline into snake dens to flush them out into the open for capture.
Environmentalists and biologists had been pushing for a ban to this environmentally dangerous practice, but a Texas lawmaker recently nixed a proposal that would have outlawed the practice, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
There's now contentious debate about whether hunters should be allowed to use snake gassing to drive snakes out of their winter dens to be used in popular "rattlesnake roundup" carnival displays, milked for medically valuable venom or used in stunts.
The debate isn't a simple one. Rattlesnake roundups provide population control, income for hunters and give an economic boost to some rural areas,
—and they're beloved cultural events. Meanwhile, hunters say using gasoline is also the easiest way to get snakes out of their holes.
But gassing has considerable environmental consequences, opponents argue. Gasoline makes these caves and caverns inhabitable for all other creatures who might seek out shelter, including endangered and threatened species. And gasoline and its fumes harm plants and the quality of the soil where it's splashed.
"Gassing is an indiscriminate means of take," wrote a group from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department tasked with looking at snake gassing. "(The wildlife department) is concerned about the impact of gassing on wildlife and habitat, particularly on non-target organisms, including rare karst (cave/crevice-dwelling) invertebrates that inhabit caves and crevices along with rattlesnakes."
The group, composed of rattlesnake roundup promoters, herpetologists, biologists and other experts, concluded alternative methods should be used to capture the snakes, like snake traps or simply using snake hooks to pick them up. They also noted these snakes are rarely used to develop essential antivenom since laboratories keep captive colonies to create the medicine.
Statesman reader Collette Adkins from the Center for Biological Diversity in Minnesota blasted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for nixing the ban proposal, saying in a letter to the editor they "bowed to narrow interests of rattlesnake hunters."
"It is outrageous that Commission Chairman Dan Friedman — the billionaire CEO of Gulf States Toyota Distributors — single-handedly nixed the public hearing on the citizen petition seeking the ban," she wrote.
Rattlesnake roundups take place in other states, including an annual festival in Pasco County, Florida, but the practice is most popular in Texas.
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