Naturalist Randy Stechert brings lesson, and snakes, to UDC meeting

NARROWSBURG, NY - Concerned much with the river’s flow and the corridor’s many cherished resources, Upper Delaware Council (UDC) took some time at their July session to consider one of the river valley’s more misunderstood and sometimes feared inhabitants, the snake.
A seasoned snake handling naturalist and recognized reptile and amphibian specialist, Randy Stechert of Narrowsburg, brought a rattlesnake and a copperhead snake to explain how these venomous creatures have a role to play and share with the rest of us. He talked about how we can peacefully co-exist with them, including what to do and not do should a unexpected encounter occur.
They are not as common as some may think.
“I get the comment all the time, ‘Oh, this area has a lot of rattlesnakes’,” Stechert said. “No, absolutely not… The population has depleted and some remarkable things have happened in the past several years.”
He told about a man why wasn’t really afraid of rattlers, but he decided to put his house within 100 yards of the nearest rattlesnake den. He liked the scenery there.
The man has helped the local snake population. He catches the rattler, puts them in a garbage can and relocates them. He’s made good rattlesnake habitat in the area.
Stechert said that a healthy timber rattlesnake has between 60 and 100 individual offspring, and can live as long as 40 years if not bothered.
There are two rattlesnake dens in the local river corridor region, Stechert said. One is a mile from his house. Another den is up river, north of Callicoon. He said there are no rattlesnakes in the Honesdale area.
Copperhead snakes are also very limited in the Upper Delaware Corridor.
Bites from copperhead snakes, he said, are “basically non-lethal.” Stechert cited two examples that were exceptions, but it is possible someone may be allergic to the venom which can lead to death.
He stated that timber rattlesnakes are not “aggressive” and “they are not stupid animals.” Their venom is meant to procure prey rather than for defense he said.
The longest timber rattler he ever found was 60 inches long. “I was so thrilled. It took me 34 years. I’ve been doing this 53 years,” he said. The record is 74-1/2”, he said.
Deaths from snake bites are so rare, he said; “There are over 6,000 people bitten by venomous snake bites in the United States every year… and less than 10 people die.” Some of these are from captive, exotic snakes from other parts of the world.
Encounters with snakes, he said, most often occur when people come upon them and do foolish things.
Wanton killing of rattlesnakes is illegal. A permit is needed, Stechert said.
Stechert is employed by conservation organizations to do rattlesnake surveys, and by land developers to evaluate snake habitats. In a Times-Herald Record interview last fall, he noted the rattlesnake’s importance to the ecosystem. One result of their absence may be the proliferation of ticks, for instance, since their prey are often mammals who carry ticks, Stechert said.
He has been bitten four times in his 50 years of handling venomous snakes. Stechert may peel off a skin being shed or mark a rattlesnake’s tail for identification while their heads are down a hole or they are wrapped around a bush. He said he was bitten twice by rattlesnakes, once by a copperhead, and once by a South American fer-de-lance.

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More items from the UDC meeting are reported in the Wednesday print edition.

The UDC meets on the first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m., at 211 Bridge St., Narrowsburg, NY. Call 845-252-3022 or visit upperdelawarecouncil.org for more information.