LA CROSSE, Wis. (WBKT) - Wednesday, a News 8 photographer spotted a rattlesnake near Hixon forest in La Crosse. Although that's very rare, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, August is the month when people are most likely come upon one.
While most people hikers try to avoid snakes, Matt Heeter actively searches for them.
He runs the Coulee Region Herpetological Society, and works with the DNR on rattlesnake survey and removal.
Because it's breeding season, he said, most rattlesnake removal calls come in in August.
"It's good to be aware they're around, but the chances of seeing them are unlikely,” he said.
Heeter said because of bounty hunting in the past and slow reproduction cycles, in Wisconsin, rattlesnakes are at 10 percent of their historical population.
The species most likely to be found in this area is the timber rattlesnake, which is a protected wild animal, meaning it's illegal to kill except in life-threatening situations.
"With the rarity of the rattlesnake, it's such an uncommon encounter,” Wisconsin DNR conservation biologist Armund Bartz said. “Just appreciate that"
After studying rattlesnakes for years and working with Heeter, Bartz said the animal has gotten a bad rap.
"They're not aggressive animals,” he said. “They're very calm, fairly gentle animals if you're not antagonizing them; that's where bites could happen."
Bartz said to give a rattlesnake some wriggle room and stay 10 feet away just to be safe.
“It's not going to chase after you,” he said.
There's been one documented death from a rattlesnake in Wisconsin since 1900 and recently, about one bite every four years in the state, according to the DNR.
"It's very, very rare,” Bartz said.
"There is no such thing as an aggressive snake, only defensive,” Heeter said. “We're the ones coming into their space."
However, snake bites can be serious. Heeter recommends keeping your distance and leaving the snake removal to professionals, but he said there's nothing wrong with admiring them.
“They are rare, so if you do see one consider yourself lucky,” he said.
Bartz said because it's a rare species, the DNR would like to receive reports about rattlesnake sightings, including a picture for identification.
If you think a snake should be moved, make sure to call the DNR.
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