Should Rattlesnakes Be Gassed? Texas Parks and Wildlife Says No

Categories: Environment

Photo by Greg Westfall
Rattlers may have to be gathered using other methods.

There's not much in Sweetwater to recommend it to the outside world. People in the dusty little West Texas town seem to enjoy it all right, but for most of the year it's just a wide spot in the road. But on the second weekend in March the town comes to life, the site of the largest rattlesnake roundup in the United States. For one weekend a year it's a town crawling with both rattlesnakes, and the people there to hunt and kill them for the annual rattlesnake roundup.

The snakes are driven out of their holes, collected and killed and if that sounds a little nauseating, it is. But there are a lot of snakes out in West Texas and since 1958 this has been Sweetwater's way of dealing with the problem and collecting a few tourist dollars - killing two birds - or more appropriately two snakes - with one stone. However, the method of the roundup may be changing. Texas Parks and Wildlife officials are floating the idea of banning the gassing of snakes, a move that would alter the whole Sweetwater roundup setup.

Snake roundups have been happening across the country since the late 1920s, but the practice has become increasingly controversial in recent years. Not only do they slaughter a whole lot of snakes -- it's estimated 1 percent of the Texas snake population is picked up during the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup each year -- who are arguably a key part of the food chain and the ecosystem, but the people picking them up generally drive the snakes out of their holes by gassing them.

After decades tolerating the practice of gassing, Texas Parks and Wildlife is considering a bit of a change in their approach. Namely, they're thinking of changing the rules to ban the gassing "non-game wildlife, particularly rattlesnakes," according to a release issued from the state agency. They're in the process of holding public hearings and getting feedback now, but it's likely the rules will be changed if there isn't too big a fuss from those who still want to gas the snakes to get them up and moving.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, dumping a bunch of gasoline or some other noxious chemical down a burrow hole is decidedly effective, but it could also kill the other species hanging around the hole, it makes the burrow unlivable for years after the gassing and the chemicals being used are being allowed to soak into the ground and from there to the water supply, which is bad news for anyone or anything - especially out in West Texas - who, you know, likes to drink water.

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Hello T_O_L,

You do realize that I was being humorous about the SWCC meaning... lol!

I think the Jaycees organization is great, and I like all that they do for their communities. As I mentioned earlier, I have a couple of acquaintances in the Jaycees organization.

Now to brass tacks. First off, I believe people are more important than rattlesnakes. As for the current issue facing Texas with the rattlesnake gassing, Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) believes it's a huge concern since they are the state wildlife management agency. Your gripe is with them. But you're looking through blinders and don't see the big picture, do you? And you second guess where I live and spout off  about a rattlesnake problem that I don't understand. Let me in enlighten you.

I live in Arizona, the rattlesnake capitol of this nation. We have more species than any other state period. Sad to say, even Mexico has a bigger geographic range for the western diamondback than Texas does. The Phoenix area knows all to well the rattlesnake issues year around.

Since you didn't address the gassing issue, I'll work on your "anecdote", if by what you mean is anti venom from the roundup snakes inside Nolan County Coliseum. I know for a fact that even TPWD pretty much shut that argument down when they proposed the gassing ban. Let's start there!

In the May 21, 2012 TF&G Report, commercial snake hunters along with the Sweetwater Jaycees asked this question:

"How will venom suppliers obtain sufficient quantities of venom for research and antivenin production if gassing is banned?"

TPWD responded, "Most rattlesnake venom used in medical research and the production of antivenin is produced by laboratories that maintain captive colonies of rattlesnakes and do not rely on venom obtained from gassed snakes."

In other words, there is no shortage of anti venom, nor will there ever be since there are more venom producing facilities with healthy snakes that follow FDA guidelines. The "milking pit" has everything wrong with it. Blood, germs, and dirt get into the collection beaker. I've seen it, plus Youtube is a wonder isn't it. I've also seen different species of rattlesnakes in the pit before milking that gets mixed into the western diamondback venom. That is a huge red flag. I like the fact that supposedly, there is a confidentiality clause between the Sweetwater Jaycees and the venom buyer. Big hush, hush secret. Plus as I've heard, the Jaycees don't want the venom buyer's lab threatened or picketed due to where the venom came from. That's really weak for supposedly something meant to save lives! I know Ken Darnell is a big buyer of the venom, but it's not going to any lab here in the U.S. since FDA guidelines won't allow for it. So it goes to places with less restrictions and scrutiny supposedly. By the way, Darnell used to have his company called Bioactive in Portal Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish got interested in his operation since he clamed to have hundreds of rattlesnakes. Guess what? After an article came out featuring my comments about roundups and venom milking, He called me and proceeded to spew out nonsense. At that time AZGF got wind of this and Darnell split Arizona for the south. His Bioactive lab turned out to be no more than a po box as stated by the Arizona Corporation Commission. So now he stays far away, and rambles on with his snake venom story.

Anyway, your premise is faulty and without merit. Gassing is indiscriminate to all wildlife no matter what state it's in. The research and data are there for the reading. The excuse that "it's only the fumes" is so ludicrous. It even says on the small warning sign of every gasoline pump in the U.S. "Do not breath in fumes or vapors." Trying to use the logic of "well, west Texas is a geographic region with a different geography and the gas fumes are different here on snakes so do research here first," that is just plain silly and no toxicologist, wildlife biologist, or medical professional will back something that absurd! That argument of "it's no worse than filling up your truck with the fumes", yeah, good luck with that one to!

Thanks for your time! You need to support TPWD and the gassing ban if you give a rip about wildlife and yourself! The days of exploiting the western diamondback are drawing to a close. I'm all for hunting when a wildlife management plan is enforced. Let me add that TPWD has placed the western diamondback rattlesnake on the Species of Greatest Conservation Needs (SGCN) back in 2011. TPWD is finally getting it right. The wardens will enforce this gassing ban once it goes through.


First of all I'd like to say that Sweetwater is ONE word, therefore I don't see how SWCC would stand for Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce. 

And, furthermore....It's so easy for all people who do not live here to be so judgmental. Those that don't live in this "dusty little town" do not have to worry about your children or animals being bitten by one of those precious rattlesnakes. You don't live here so how could you possibly really know if there is a rattlesnake problem or not? 

As far as the money is concerned, a large portion of the money is used to help many people through many different charities, is that not more important than a rattlesnake to you? That's one thing that always gets me about people so worried about a rattlesnake, yet don't seem to have the same passion or concern for humanity. 

And...if by some chance you, your child or pet were bit by a rattlesnake, would you not want some anecdote readily available. 


Hmm...thought I'd check out the comments from this short article. From what I gather, it seems most here don't care for Ms. Wray's thoughts. I don't have anything against her article. She's shared her skills and facts, and she has her feelings or opinions about roundups and gassing in check as far as I'm concerned. With that said, let's cut to the issue.

SWCC, does that mean "Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce? I mean, you sound like a spokesperson for the town and the Sweetwater Jaycees. Before I get into this, I'll give you a heads up SWCC. First, you are correct about the gassing issue in rattlesnake dens. Nothing is poured. It's fumes as you stated. A fine mist along with the fumes in some of these pressurized spray canisters is usually what's delivered into a den sight or hide area. The rest of your "general information" that is common knowledge for the most part, is right. And that's where it ends.

Before I dismantle much of your ideology you have shared, along with a few comments from others, I need to ask you, are you up for this? I make it my business to challenge folks like you that "think" they have the facts as to gassing, what really goes on at the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, the weak and faulty Research Pit between TPWD and the Jaycees, the venom collection issue, and the educational aspect that figures more into hype and traditional folklore.

I lived in Texas for years. I know many at Texas Parks and Wildlife. I communicate with a couple of Sweetwater Jaycees. I've been to the Sweetwater roundup a couple of times. I still have relatives living in a few Texas communities, and I get the culture. I currently work at a large zoo with a background in rattlesnake biology "herpetologist", and talk about these critters in the public media. Thanks for your time and here's to an interesting dialogue! ;)


Cory, Ms. Wray did not do her research on snake "hunting", rattlesnakes, or west Texas at all before she wrote this horribly offensive piece.  

Nothing is "poured" into the dens.  The "hunters" actually pump fumes only into the den.  No actual liquid is spilled or used.  In fact, much more gasoline is spilled at gas pumps than is used in snake control.

Even the use of the term "hunting" suggests that it is done purely for sport.But I tell you that if you had one of these dens in your back yard or a few yards from your home or where your horses, dogs or cattle roamed, you'd want the rattlers controlled (hunted) too.  

Rattlesnakes are not tame pets or cute little critters.  They are extremely dangerous and deadly pests who lay dozens of eggs at a time.  We are covered over with them out here, both folks who live in town as well as those who live in the country.  The cost to treat a rattler bite can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the cost of which is often borne by the taxpayers through our hospitals.  The cost of a rattler bite to a cow, horse or dog is often several thousands of dollars and that is what drives the local farmers and ranchers to have the dens controlled in the first place.

Mother nature actually does more harm to snake and karst populations than the "fuming" that is used by some  of the controllers.  Cold winters will kill more than fuming.  And the wildfires that spread through our area a couple of winters ago were much more damaging to those environments.

I would also say that the construction of freeways, housing developments, office buildings and miles and miles of parking lots does far more square miles of damage to our natural environments than any of our attempts to control the rattler population.

Your little writer should have done better research before writing such an erroneous and offensive piece.  The folks out here in rural west Texas are some of the biggest hearted folks you'll ever meet!  They are hard working Texans who produce much of the energy, beef, wheat and cotton that you so gladly consume.  Please understand who you are so easily and flippantly insulting from your city environment. 

This blog post is awful, and cruelly insulting..

CoryGarcia moderator

Just want to point out that pouring chemicals in to a hole and calling it "hunting" is hilarious.


Why did you even take time to write about this when clearly all these statments are untrue. Oh I forgot? Because the media has anything better to do than always write untrue bull shit to actually make what you think seem intresting. When it's not. We may be just a 'dusty little west Texas town' that's really nothing but a hole in the road but we sure as hell enjoy it. Do more research before you try and raise awareness about being so inhuman. What other animals live in or near rattle snake holes? And after all these years wouldn't it have made a huge dent in our animals habitat? You don't live here obviously, (not that you'd fit in). You don't know how dangerous these rattle snakes are. If we're so cruel killing them all off why are they not indangered? They are dangerous. They are not harmed they harm others. There is a big difference. Makes me real ashamed that you live here in Texas.


One other thing that your "readers" should know.  The individuals at the helm of the petition that started this - are NOT EVEN TEXANS!  

It was started by three individuals - one from Colorado, one from Wisconsin and the other from Pennsylvania!

Come on Texans!  Wake up!  

Are we seriously going to let folks from other states, who don't walk in the same fear that we do of these snakes, sneak this ruling in on us?!  

Truly, are we going to sit back and let them influence our TPWD enough to make a ruling that will effectively become "law" without any representation from our part?!

And, also, do you high rise city dwellers honestly think you should voice your opinions on this when you've not had to dwell among these deadly creatures?

The best rules are made after considering all aspects and all consequences of such, both intended and unintended.  The best reports are also made when considering all view points.

Neither this rule, nor this blog did such.


There is so much error in this blog post that I cannot imagine that the Houston Press would even publish this.  

I am a long-time resident of the "Dusty Little West Texas Town" you so rudely insulted.

I choose to take the high ground in my comments here and not even make specific points as I should, but to say that this may be one of the most poorly researched and offensively written pieces I have seen.

Shame on you Houston Press, and shame on you Dianna Wray.  

Makes me sad that you call yourself "Texan".


@SWCC Rattlesnakes do not lay eggs. They give live birth. Am I to take your comments seriously? The information you have made public is "insulting" and no wildlife biologist will support it...including TPWD wildlife biologists.

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