Monday, April 11, 2011

I for one welcome our new FOX overlords...

Enough about Opp for a while; time to spotlight my neighbors down the road in Lockhart. This greets travelers on AL Hwy 55 between Andalusia and Florala.  I can almost sort of understand someone having this sentiment (it sure isn't mine), but to go to all the trouble to have a sign painted for the world to see is beyond me.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Need Info on Rattlesnakes? [Updated]

Then don't go to the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo's website and click Rattlesnakes: Facts, Information [UPDATE: This link no longer works; as of 5 March there is no longer a link to ANY sort of rattlesnake info from the Opp Rodeo page  UPDATE#2: It's inexplicably back again, same as before]. Although the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Timber Rattlesnake, and the Pigmy Rattlesnake are the three species native to south Alabama, they are not even mentioned by name. But there's tons of generic information on diet, reproduction, etc. Who pulled all this together? Nobody with Opp, it turns out. The local effort that went into this educational resource is zero. It's all lifted verbatim from the Wikipedia Rattlesnake page, minus certain details and all hyperlinks and citations (thanks Dave).
And under "Safety," a photo is provided of a young woman needlessly bare-handing a large eastern diamondback while a grown, bearded man assists. (An old Rodeo program I once had said the snake hunt was "the call of the wild to grown, bearded men.") If you need to pick up a rattler, always use a snake hook. This is safety? More like a display of what not to do.
April 11 2011 edit: At the request of the photographer (a City of Opp employee; see comments below) I've removed the image from this blog post.  There's no photographer credit on the official page I link to above (I couldn't know who to credit) and this kind of thing falls within "fair use" allowances, but I wouldn't want my photo being used without my permission, either.  You can see it here as long as the City keeps it on the website.
The Opp Rodeo has a wonderful opportunity to reach young people with a responsible environmental and safety message. It's a shame they're falling so far short of that potential.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Opp Rodeo Facebook Correspondence

From the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo's Facebook page. Synopsis:

"There's a loaded gun on the table. What if the kids get hold of it?"

"Don't worry. Safety comes first!"

[gun stays on table]

Friday, January 28, 2011

City of Opp Now Paying Snake Bounty?

The City of Opp's Rattlesnake Rodeo website doesn't have much useful information on the eastern diamondback rattlesnake (it doesn't even mention the species by name), but it does offer sound advice regarding what to do if you encounter one: "avoid contact with rattlesnakes by remaining observant and not approaching the animals." Despite that, the city has just announced a new policy of paying the general public a bounty of $8 per foot for eastern diamondback rattlesnakes over 2 feet long, or $100 for any snake over 5 feet long. Mayor H.D. Edgar is quoted saying, "We've been paying our hunters in the past, but a lot of them have quit. We've got to have a new source of snakes for the snake shows, so everyone thought this would be a good idea to get the public involved once again." I wonder if "everyone" included the city attorney, because it would seem that the city is setting itself up for a huge liability exposure. And the city needs rattlesnakes for what, exactly? Two things only: to be put on display and to be "raced." The snakes are actually playing less and less of a role in this popular annual event. Of course they don't need wild-caught rattlesnakes to have a buck-dance contest, a car race, or a concert. A few captive snakes could be brought out each year for display and attendance would not suffer.

For decades the standard snake hunting technique was to introduce gasoline fumes into gopher tortoise burrows to drive out rattlesnakes. This effective but extremely harmful practice is now illegal in Alabama. Rodeo promoters claim this is no longer done, but they don't say how they police themselves. And now the city has opened the field up to anyone, without cautioning against gassing burrows. It's going to be happening, no question.

A growing number of people are calling for this event to change. At the Rodeo, children are seeing large numbers of a declining species of native wildlife being rounded up, mistreated, and slaughtered (behind the scenes; they used to chop off heads in public but no longer) for no reason other than it's a snake. This is not how to instill a respect for nature in the next generation. Other towns that had snake rodeos, such as Fitzgerald, Georgia and San Antonio Florida, have successfully shifted the emphasis of their event away from the wild snake roundup. At the San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival, education presentations feature snakes that are not abused or harassed, the crowd is entertained, and children go home with a new respect for wildlife. That event draws 30,000 visitors and raises thousands of dollars for local nonprofits.

Opp City Planner Don Childre has long defended the wild snake hunt by claiming the snakes are still as common as ever. His credibility went out the window, however, when he was quoted in yesterday's Opp News falsely stating that rattlesnakes bear young several times a year for an annual average of 100 young! In fact, diamondbacks bear young once in the late summer, with an average litter of about a dozen young. Then he falsely equates the regulated harvest of game species to the unregulated take of rattlesnakes: "We hunt [gray squirrels and whitetail deer] and no one says anything, but they make a lot of noise about snake hunting for some reason." See what he did there? Using that logic, I suppose he'd say we can also have unregulated take on sea turtles, because one female can produce over 500 hatchlings in a year.

Eastern diamondbacks are declining primarily due to habitat degradation, not snake roundups, but the latter is not helping. Their environmental impact has been documented by Dr. D. Bruce Means of Florida State University and the Coastal Plains Institute here (PDF).

It's either time for the State of Alabama to step up and regulate the take of rattlesnakes for such purposes, or for Opp to change its annual event to a wildlife appreciation festival. By doing so they would continue to bring in revenue to the local economy while educating young people and conserving the diversity of nature that we are so fortunate to have in this part of the country.