Response of timber rattlesnakes to commercial logging operations

Authors


  • Associate Editor: John C. Maerz

Abstract

Forest management practices in the eastern United States directly impact large parcels of land that serve as habitat for timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). We assessed the behavioral response of timber rattlesnakes to commercial logging activities and the impact of such activities on a timber rattlesnake population in northcentral Pennsylvania. We radiotelemetrically monitored 67 individual snakes over periods of up to 4 years, marked and recaptured 306 snakes, and conducted search and survey efforts before, during, and after commercial logging operations on 3 timber sale parcels (totaling 154.2 ha). Location and timing of timber sales created the maximum opportunity for interaction of snakes with logging operations and with altered habitat. Observed logging-related mortality of snakes was low (<2% of the population/yr), but potential mortality could have reached 7%. Logging activity and resulting habitat changes did not alter behavior or movement patterns of telemetrically monitored snakes. Snakes with established activity ranges in timber sale areas continued to use these areas both during and after logging operations. Similarly, snakes with activity patterns that did not include timber sale areas did not alter their movement patterns to include such sites in the short-term. Timbering increased structural diversity of the habitat and, concurrently, diversity of habitat used by timber rattlesnakes increased. Our results suggest that the opportunity exists to develop forest management practices that provide timber products while limiting impacts on behavior and habitat use of timber rattlesnakes. To further reduce impacts to timber rattlesnake populations we recommend that management agencies require commercial logging contractors, sub-contractors, and field employees to adhere strictly to a policy that prohibits the intentional killing of rattlesnakes encountered during logging activities. © 2010 The Wildlife Society.

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