ABILENE, Texas -

A petition has surfaced urging parks and wildlife to ban the gassing of rattlesnakes.

It’s signed by 58 biologists, zoologists and ecologists, including nine former or current employees at the Abilene Zoo.

Some in Sweetwater have said a ban would negatively impact its annual rattlesnake roundup and hurt the Sweetwater economy.

The petition cites a number of studies that outline possible ecological effects of gassing snakes. 

"They're not out to get you. People make them seem like, ‘Oh they're such a threat.’ They're not. People are the threat," said Sarah Strom-Kieschnick, who signed the petition just over a year ago to stop the use of gassing as a means for collecting rattlesnakes.

Texas Parks and Wildlife is considering a proposal to ban the use of gassing to collect rattlesnakes.

"I feel that if you're doing that in those dens it's homes for other animals and wildlife, so for the Texas Parks and Wildlife to still allow that to happen, that's crazy. To allow something like that to still be so barbaric –it's 2014, we need to change the way of collecting animals," Kieschnick said.

Kieschnick used to work at the Abilene Zoo. Now she works at For the Love of Nature, a nonprofit that educates the public about wildlife issues. The eight other Abilene signers either used to or currently work at the zoo.

"When you work for the zoo or the city you know there's not too much you can say because you work for the government and so this being our side nonprofit that's also why we created it so we could be more voicesterous about our so-called opinion," Kieschnick said.

The city of Abilene released a statement about the petition that said: "By signing this petition, these individuals are not representing the city of Abilene nor has the city taken a position on this matter."

KTXS has not been able to contact any of the current zoo employees who signed the petition for their comment.

"We're serious and really we really do care about animals and the environment and everything that's living in those Dens – and what's being affected," Kieschnick said.

If the proposal is passed, Texas would become the 30th state to ban the practice of gassing to some extent. 

Texas Parks and Wildlife will host a public hearing in Sweetwater at 10 a.m. Friday at Texas State Technical College. You can also send them your comment online.

A copy of the petition is noted below. 

To the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 

Collectors of rattlesnakes in Texas are known to employ the use of gasoline, also referred to as gassing when harvesting Western diamond-back rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox). This is generally agreed upon by ecologists and biologists alike to be detrimental to the overall health of rattlesnakes as well as several other species of reptile, bird and mammal (ASIH, 2006). It is also considered harmful to the environment in general as it can kill vegetation and disrupts functioning ecosystems (Warwick et al, 1991). Furthermore, it could be argued that this use of gasoline has the potential to contaminate as defined by Texas Water Code Title 2, Subtitle E, Chapter 36, Subchapter A8D (Sec. 36.001. Definitions): “(D) pollution or harmful alteration of groundwater in a groundwater reservoir by saltwater or by other deleterious matter admitted from another stratum or from the surface of the ground” (Texas Const., Water Code Chap. 36).

Many animals are known to share rattlesnake burrows, some of which are protected by the State of Texas as well as the Federal Government.

The species that are potentially affected include but are not limited to ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata ornata), gophers (Family Geomyidae), various non-venomous snakes, Texas tortoises (Gopherus berlandieri), spiny lizards (genus Sceloporus), collared lizards (genus Crotaphytus), tree lizards (Urosaurus ornatus), earless lizards (Holbrooki & Cophosaurus), kangaroo rats (genus Dipodomys), ringtails (Bassariscus astutus), bobcats (Lynx rufus ), kit foxes (Vulpes macroti ), Palo Duro deermice (Peromyscus truei comanche ), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), bumble bees (genus Bombus) and burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia). 

General disturbance and the use of gasoline are known to drive them from their habitat (Goode et al, 2004). Gasoline also has potentially lethal effects on all animals that come into contact with it (Speake and Mount, 1973). Yet in Texas the spraying of gasoline in the harvest of rattlesnakes is still allowed. For the good of the environment this antiquated process has to stop.

This is a petition of appeal to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department by scientific authority to put a stop to the use of gassing as a means of collecting rattlesnakes. Below are the names of biologists, zoologists, ecologists, chemists and other professional organismal scientists that agree that Texas needs to reform its laws regarding wild game and end the legal use of gasoline as means of snake collection.

Cited   

Good, M. J., Swann, D. E., & Schwalbe, C. R. (2004). Effects of Destructive Collecting Practices on Reptiles: a Field Experiment. Journal of Wildlife Management, 68(2). 

Howard, Walter E. (1994). Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management: Control of Rattlesnakes. Cornell University; Clemson University; University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Utah State University.

http://icwdm.org/handbook/reptiles/RattleSnakes.asp