MONROE TOWNSHIP - In the northeastern United States, Pennsylvania stands out as having done a good job of protecting the timber rattlesnake, according to James Chestney, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission's venomous species coordinator.

"We have got a good population of timber rattlesnakes, through good management," he said.

By contrast, in the surrounding states, the reptile is either categorized as threatened or endangered, he said.

Within the Keystone State, the "big mountain section" of Pennsylvania's Northern Tier is "prime Pennsylvania timber rattlesnake (country)," he said. In fact, all five of Pennsylvania's organized rattlesnake hunts take place in the Northern Tier, including one this weekend in Monroe Township in Bradford County, he said.

"Ironically, it (the Northern Tier) is also where a lot of Marcellus Shale activity" is taking place, Chestney said.

The effect of Marcellus Shale drilling activity on the population of timber rattlesnakes is "a concern," he said.

In Pennsylvania, the biggest threat to the timber rattlesnake population is "development, which could be Marcellus activity, and wanton killing" of the reptiles, he said.

The gas companies "have been working very well with us" to protect the timber rattlesnake in Pennsylvania, he added.

The concern is that gas companies' construction of roads, pipelines, and well sites could destroy timber rattlesnakes' dens and gestation sites, he said.

Gestation sites are where female rattlesnakes will gather during the summer to incubate their embryos and give birth.

"We know where are lot of the dens are," and when a gas company seeks a permit from the state, the Fish & Boat Commission will work with the company to preserve dens and gestation sites in the area, he said. A gas company might "slightly relocate" a facility to protect a known den, he said.

If the state knows that a gas company is going to be drilling in an area where timber rattlesnakes are located, "we will ask them to do an assessment" that will assist the state in locating dens and gestation sites in the affected area, he said.

Timber rattlesnakes will continue to use the same den year after year, he said. It's possible that an existing den could have been used for thousands of years, he added.

"Once a den is gone, it's gone," he said.

In New Hampshire, only one timber rattlesnake den remains, he said.

Chestney was working on Saturday at the Monroeton Rod & Gun Club's annual rattlesnake hunt. At the event, seven timber rattlesnakes, which had been caught earlier that day in Bradford and Sullivan counties, were in a pen at club's property in Monroe Township.

Two copperhead snakes were also in the pen.

The event also featured food, a horseshoe competition, music, and more. The event continues today at the gun club, starting at noon.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.