By JOHN WEISS, Post-Bulletin of Rochester
HOUSTON, Minn. (AP) -- Moving timber rattlesnakes away from homes and people takes skill and patience. Convincing people that all rattlers shouldn't be killed on sight is the real challenge.
Arden Hargrove, of the Money Creek area north of Houston, is one of about five people in Houston County trained by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to remove rattlers. His son, Seth Hargrove, is also licensed to handle them.
"That's the problem, trying to change perceptions of a lot of residents around here," Arden Hargrove said. The attitude that the only good rattler is a dead one "is hard to overcome," he told the Post-Bulletin of Rochester.
Yet when he gave a program on the snakes at the Houston Nature Center, more than 30 people showed up, he said. That encouraged him.
Hargrove recently learned that a man had found a small male rattler near downtown Houston, and the man was able to safely put it into a container. Hargrove took the snake and called the DNR. The snake was taken to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park for educational purposes.
The DNR didn't want to release the snake back to the wild because the department doesn't know where its den site is. Snakes released away from such sites have only a 50-50 chance of surviving winter.
Hargrove said he grew up in rural Houston and spent a lot of time in the woods, but he didn't see a rattlesnake until he was about 24. When he became a logger, he would bring home any rattlers he found and put them in an aquarium so he could observe them. After a few days, he would release them.
"They were intriguing, I guess probably because of the perceived danger," he said. "The more I learned about the snake, the more intriguing I found them to be."
About seven years ago, he heard the DNR was seeking volunteers to learn how to move rattlers. He volunteered. He was impressed with the passion some people had "for saving the critters."
Timber rattlesnakes were once quite common, but thousands were killed when a bounty was put on them. Their numbers dropped further as their habitat was destroyed.
Timber rattlers are now listed as a threatened species in the state. They live in only a small part of Minnesota, basically Houston, Winona and Fillmore counties.
While Hargrove admires the snakes, he also respects them. "I don't mess around with them," he said.
Hargrove gently took a snake out of a medium-size trash container recently so a reporter could take photos. He was careful not to startle the snake or raise his snake hook so high that the snake would slide down it.
But he also spoke about how much he admires the creatures.
"They are such unique creatures, and they have such a small environment," he said. "It would be unfortunate if they didn't exist."