At some unknown point in the not-too-distant past, after the advent of the internal combustion engine, human beings discovered that pouring volatile chemicals into underground burrows made it much, much easier to hunt rattlesnakes and other critters.
The practice, aptly called "gassing," caught on and has been in use in Texas ever since.
"What people do is take gasoline or kerosene or other noxious substance and pour enough of it down into an animal burrow to create a vapor that forces them out," said Texas Parks & Wildlife spokesman Mike Cox. "That's the main idea: it messes up the atmosphere enough inside the burrow to force them to come out."
Sounds brilliant, you're no doubt thinking. Surely there can't be any drawbacks.
Alas, TPWD says there are. It turns out pouring gasoline underground tends to damage delicate ecosystems, contaminate water and indiscriminately kill things, not just the rattlesnakes and gopher tortoises being targeted, but also lizards, toads, other less loathsome snakes, many of them endangered.
Even if the practice were less indiscriminate, it would still be harmful, Cox said. "When you start tampering with the pieces in the ecosystem it leads to a cascading effect that leads to worse and worse [damage] for the environment."
That's why, when the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission meets on January 23, it will consider joining 30 other states by enacting a full or partial gassing ban.
Rattlesnakes aren't the only animals people gas, but they've been getting the most attention since TPWD proposed the new rule last month in large part because of events like the "World's Largest Rattlesnake Roundup" in Sweetwater, Texas. An organizer told the Austin American-Statesman that a ban on gassing would kill that event.
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YouTube footage of people actually gassing rattlesnakes is disappointingly hard to find, but here's a National Geographic clip describing Sweetwater's festival:
Cox says comments given at public hearings this week in Fort Worth and Houston have been mostly positive. One expects that will change once officials reach Sweetwater next Friday.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.