Illegal rattlesnake collectors, beware.
Rangers in the Santa Monica National Recreation Area recently removed dozens of makeshift snake traps, evidence of a wildlife-poaching operation, officials said.
Last month, law enforcement rangers staged a large-scale cleanup to remove more than 60 plywood boards and sheets of carpet scattered around a square-mile area of Decker Canyon, located in the western half of the Santa Monica Mountains.
“It looks like trash strewn around,” said Trouper Snow, chief ranger for the Santa Monica National Recreation Area.
But the boards are more than just litter. Poachers use the objects to create a kind of pitfall trap.
The objects cover up small holes or buckets placed in the ground. On hot days, the covers provide shade that attracts snakes and other cold-blooded critters. When they craw underneath, they fall in the pits and can’t get out.
The animals are then sold.
Species such as the California kingsnake and the rosy boa are attractive targets, Snow said. People also trap rattlesnakes, he added.
“You wouldn’t think that most of the public would want to collect and handle rattlesnakes, but there are people that do,” he said.
No arrests were made in the Decker Canyon case, but the investigation did lead to an arrest elsewhere, according to a National Park Service statement.
Wildlife poaching is a decades-old problem that affects many public lands and parks, Snow said. The issue comes up every few years when poachers “think the rangers aren’t watching,” he said. In the 1990s, authorities arrested two dozen people involved in a massive poaching effort across 11 counties, including Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino.
All plants and animals on national parkland are protected under law -- whether they’re endangered or not.
“We have to stay on top of it,” Snow said. “It’s a national park and we want to protect the animals … so the natural ecosystem can remain intact and our future generations can continue to enjoy the same species that exist there today.”
If park visitors come across any boards or carpeting, officials recommend leaving them alone and contacting the park dispatch at (661) 723-3620.
“There could be snakes inside,” Snow said.
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