ATHOL (CBS) — State environmental officials didn’t expect such an uproar over their plan to establish a refuge for endangered, venomous timber rattlesnakes on an off-limits island in the Quabbin Reservoir–so they’re forming a working group to get input from the public.

Their plan, which has since been put on hold due to public opposition, was discussed an oversight hearing in Athol Tuesday. Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton was the first to testify. He apologized for a lack of dialogue on an issue that has become explosive in this area.

“That is largely rooted in an emotional response to the fact that it’s a rattlesnake,” Beaton said. “When you look at things that people are afraid of, rattlesnakes are at the top of the list.”

Beaton hopes that, once people hear the science behind the plan to restore a species that is endangered only in this part of the country, they’ll get on board.

But Martha Knightly won’t support the rattlesnake refuge. She calls the Quabbin “sacred ground” because of all the towns that were destroyed to create it.

“Those of us that love it, we’re attached to the people who lost their homes,” said Knightly.

Charlie Shadus of Athol noted that the snakes were not endangered anywhere else.

“Personally, I think it’s a big waste of money,” said Shadus.

But Kurt Schatzl, President of the New England Herpetological Society, said it was all part of biodiversity.

“Because they deserve to be here, they’ve always been here,” said Schatzl. “They’re part of the ecology. It’s about keeping what you have, and not losing it.”

No timetable has been set for discussion–or decision–on a new plan, so the state’s five colonies of timber rattlers will remain undisturbed for now.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones reports

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