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Posted by W von Papinešu on September 03, 2002 at 10:02:57:
MARSHFIELD NEWS HERALD (Wisconsin) 27 August 02 Hissss: Rattlesnake rumors just hot air (Keith Uhlig)
Wausau: Folks out for a stroll in the woods of Lincoln County and Rib Mountain are safe from the fangs of the timber rattlesnake.
Contrary to rumor, the state Department of Natural Resources has no plans to introduce the snake to forests in those areas.
The truth didn't stop several callers to Tom King's WSAU-AM (550) call-in show Monday morning from declaring the snake's presence a fact. One caller said he had heard that the DNR was dumping the snake into area woods from a reliable person who saw it happen. King said he had his doubts about the story and planned to check it out later.
"There are no rattlesnakes this far north. Never has been, never will be," said DNR wildlife biologist Rick Weide, who works out of the agency's Rib Mountain office.
King said he wasn't surprised that callers were targeting the state agency. "The DNR doesn't get much love from among the regulars on talk radio," he said.
Just asking about the timber rattlers at various DNR offices brought laughter and quips about bigfoot and UFOs. But Weide is accustomed to working for an agency that often comes under criticism.
"Certain species out there are real hot buttons," he said. "I mean, if we were introducing butterflies this wouldn't have happened. ... We're not trying to hide anything. That would be stupid."
Weide surmised that the genesis of the timber rattler rumor was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife project that introduced 15 massasauga rattlesnakes to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in fall 1999. The project was designed to research the snakes' habits and study the possibility of introducing them to the wilds there.
Each was fitted with a radio transmitter, and Weide said the surviving snakes were removed from the area after the study concluded.
"I think like any rumor, the story changes as it gets passed along, because people can't remember the details," Weide said.
Wendy Weisensel, the DNR's chief of education and public affairs, said the agency tries to combat the most persistent rumors with news releases but conceded that doesn't always work.
Bill Wengeler, administrator of the Lincoln County Forestry, Land and Parks Department, said that he hadn't heard the rumor but that it did not surprise him.
"You know that game you used to play in school? The one where you sat around in a circle and whispered into each others' ears and by the time it got around, it was a 180-degree difference? That's how rumors work," he said.