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Snake Kill

February 14, 1996
By: Emily Goodin
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Rep. Don Koller, D-Summerville, came home one evening and found an uninvited visitor waiting for him - a copperhead snake.

"I committed a violent act with a hoe," Koller said. "I'm scared to death of snakes. I don't like them."

That was Koller's explanation Wednesday to the House Agriculture Committee as to why he introduced a bill the make it legal to kill, poison or trap a snake.

According to the Missouri Wildlife Code, it is illegal to kill a snake.

The Missouri Conservation Department testified against the bill, saying snakes are misunderstood because they are different.

"Snakes have not been looked upon favorably back to the Garden of Eden," Gerald Ross, a lobbyist for the Conservation Department said.

According to the Department, Missouri has 50 species of snakes and only five are venomous. No one in the state has died from snake bites in the past 25 years, he said.

Ross said there is a provision in the wildlife code that provides for the protection of private property from wildlife.

"I feel our agency has enforced the wildlife code in a reasonable manner," Ross said.

Ross said snakes provide many benefits such as eating rodents who can carry disease. Snakes are also food for other species.

The bill would also allow people to legally go on organized snake hunts said David Nieves of the Kansas City Herpetological Society.

"I'm called to go out and rescue people from snakes, but in reality I rescue snakes from people," Nieves said.

Nieves said that if hunts are allowed, the target species would be the Timber Rattlesnake because of its size and range throughout the state. This snake is in decline due to habitat destruction and destruction, with only 17 percent of their young survive to reproduce, he said.

"Harvesting a declining species with a low reproductive rate, like the Timber Rattlesnake, does not make sense," Nieves said.

Koller proposed an amendment that said killing could only be done on a person's real property, but Tom Johnson of the Conservation Department said this will still mean a decrease in the snake population.

"We have to do everything we can to protect our bio-diversity," Johnson said.

Nieves said 80 percent of the venomous snake bites happen while someone is catching or killing a snake. Forty percent of bites involve alcohol consumption by humans - not the snakes.

The five venomous snakes in Missouri are the Osage Copperhead; the Western Cottonmouth, commonly know as the Water Moccasin; the Massasauga Rattlesnake, also known as the Swamp Rattler; the Western Pygmy Rattlesnake, also known as the Ground Rattler; and the Timber Rattlesnake.

The Massasauga Rattlesnake is on the endangered species list, but Johnson said it is legal to kill one that is in a person's home because they are venomous.