are extending legal protection to the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, which
inhabits a broad section of the northern and central U.S.--including,
historically, the Indiana Dunes--but has been in decline for years.
The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service is listing the snake as “threatened,” meaning it’s
vulnerable to dying out but not in such peril that it’s considered
The rarely seen
Eastern Massasauga inhabits wetland areas from Missouri to New York and
parts of the Canadian province of Ontario. Its numbers have fallen, however,
as wetlands have been drained for farming and urban development.
fearful humans has also hurt.
Elise Bennett of
the Center for Biological Diversity says designating the snake as threatened
can save habitat it needs to survive.
The snake is among
more than 170 species protected under a 2011 settlement between the center
and the government.
were formerly common, or common enough, in the Dunes, but so far as anyone
knows the last time one was positively identified here was 14 years ago, in
September 2002, when a biotechnician with the U.S. Geological Survey trapped
a Massasauga as part of an inventory of the vertebrates at Indiana Dunes
In its Oct. 4,
1934, edition, the Chesterton Tribune reported that a Civilian
Conservation Corps man by the name of George Marietta was bitten by a
Massasauga while cutting weeds at Indiana Dunes State Park.
“The swamps north
of here have been the natural home of rattlesnakes for years,” the Trib
reported at the time. “When the Public Service company put through their
so-called ‘high line’ a few years back there were many rattlesnakes killed
by the construction crew. They do not get out of the swamps, as a rule, and
they do not strike at people unless they are disturbed.”
“Henry Greening was
telling yesterday of a rattlesnake hunt at Burdick about 40 years ago,” the
Trib continued, “when a swamp less than an acre in size was set
afire, after furrows had been plowed around it. Over 40 rattlesnakes were
killed, and many escaped or were roasted in the flames.”