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Letter: No-catch festival in Opp rodeo’s future

Some south Alabama landowners are understandably concerned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned in 2011 by the Center for Conservation Biology to add the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake to the list of threatened and endangered species. A decision will be forthcoming, following a review. Partly as a result of this, Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently prohibited the sale of live diamondbacks. Before that, the species had been subject to no state regulation of any kind. Also, a permit from the Commissioner of Conservation is now required for keeping a captive diamondback (you can still legally kill them on your property). This nominal protection is a proactive, symbolic step that demonstrates to the feds that conservation of this declining species is at least on the state’s radar. Had Alabama not taken this action, a stronger case could be made for federal listing.

But earlier this month Senator Jimmy Holley took things in the opposite direction by introducing SB64, which would exempt the city of Opp from state regulations pertaining to rattlesnakes. Senator Holley must not realize that his bill, if passed, will be seized upon by advocates of federal protection of the diamondback to demonstrate that the state is not adequately protecting it. This bill, with potentially very bad repercussions for landowners, should be withdrawn.

But isn’t the state regulation a problem for Opp’s Rattlesnake Rodeo? Not really. To possess diamondbacks, one needs a permit. There are hobbyist snake keepers in Alabama who have captive diamondbacks. The City of Opp could and should be permitted to do so—responsibly—as well. The problem is the tradition of snake hunters bringing in as many wild rattlesnakes as they can. It’s bad for conservation, and it should stop. Opp is one of the last southeastern rattlesnake “roundups” to continue this outdated practice. Claxton Georgia’s Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival and San Antonio Florida’s Rattlesnake Festival began over 50 years ago during the same era as the Rattlesnake Rodeo. Both have changed with the times and remain highly successful events with captive rattlesnakes on display, among many other attractions.

Some of us in Covington County remember when it was legal to kill and eat gopher tortoises, and a lot of folks complained when that was outlawed. There will always be some who value tradition over conservation, but a no-catch rattlesnake festival is clearly in the Rodeo’s future, it’s only a matter of time. I urge the City of Opp to make its 60th Rodeo in 2020 the first without a “roundup,” and let’s all work together to make the federal listing of the Eastern Diamondback unwarranted.

Mark Bailey

Andalusia