ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In May, staff from the district’s lake project offices learned what to do should unexpected and unwanted visitors show up while they are on the job – namely rattlesnakes.
Maintenance personnel and park rangers often encounter rattlesnakes while going about their duties. Because rattlesnakes can be found at all the district’s lakes and dams, it’s a common issue and the training is very important for them to have, said Andrew Wastell, natural resources specialist in the district’s Operations Support Branch. He added that many rattlesnake bites occur when someone is trying to kill a rattlesnake.
Wastell and Jonathan Hicks, natural resources specialist and the lead park ranger at Conchas Lake, offered classroom and hands-on relocation training at John Martin Reservoir in Colorado and at Conchas and Cochiti lakes in New Mexico, May 3-5, 2023. A total of 25 project office staff participated in the training.
Wastell and Hicks have many years of professional experience in handling venomous reptiles. Wastell has a master’s degree in wildlife biology and his thesis focused on rattlesnake ecology. Hicks has a Bachelor of Science in wildlife biology and worked extensively with venomous reptiles while working for Arizona Game and Fish.
The training covered Department of Defense policies, snake habits and habitats, physiology, and natural history. The ecological benefits these reptiles provide was also discussed in hopes to combat the bias that these animals face.
Attendees also got “hands-on” practice in safe relocation techniques to move the snakes to a safer location for them and any nearby people.
“The reviews have been nothing but positive,” said Wastell. “The training greatly changed their perception and knowledge of rattlesnakes in a good way.”
The district plans to conduct the training annually before the summer recreation season.
“As far as we can tell, this has never been done in the Corps,” said Wastell.