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WEDNESDAY, JULY 13, 2005
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Let sleeping rattlesnakes lie

THE DECATUR DAILY:

A layperson said in a June 28 article about timber rattlesnakes, "that particular species is aggressive and ... will come after you."

This was a grossly inaccurate statement about Crotalus horridus — the timber rattlesnake. Actually, they are shy, reclusive and avoid humans whenever possible. They normally use their potent venom only for capturing prey. Venom is used as defense as a last resort. The snake knows the venom does not act instantly and a potential adversary could still inflict damage to it, even after a bite. The snake also knows expending venom for defense may mean missing a much-needed meal.

This species relies first on camouflage to avoid humans. It will first lie still and hope a human passes it by. Once the animal realizes it has been seen, it will rattle to signal its presence. From there it will look for the best escape route and take it.

Research by the Tri-State Herpetological Society had replicas of human hands scented by rubbing them against human skin and then heating the "hands" to 98 degrees. None of the 10 Crotalus horridus snakes tested bit the "hand" when it was placed in front of them. None even struck at it when it gently touched them. Only six out of 10 struck at the "hand" when it was used to aggressively provoke the snake.

Most envenomations occur during attempts to capture or kill the snake. This fact, along with the fact rattlesnakes fulfill a vital role by controlling rodents (responsible for more human deaths than all world wars combined) should compel humans to leave snakes in peace when they are encountered. If one sees a rattlesnake, do not disturb it. Leave it alone and it will go about its business. It means no harm to humans; it simply wishes to avoid human contact.

Samuel C. Hurd

Herpetologist, Chattanooga Nature Center

Chattanooga

State needs new constitution

THE DECATUR DAILY:

The people of Alabama have the power to reverse Kelo vs. City of New London. In that case, the court held that the U.S. Constitution does not forbid local government from taking private property only to be given to other private-property owners. It is a well-recognized principle of constitutional law that the U.S. Constitution sets minimum standards to guarantee the protection of individual rights. States or local governments may not lower those standards. However, states may raise those standards and states may grant additional rights not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Sadly, Alabama's Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, does not forbid takings by local government such as those in the Kelo case. Count that as just one more reason the Alabama Constitution of 1901 should be thrown out. The Alabama Legislature should immediately act by calling for a constitutional convention to draft a new constitution for Alabama that will — in addition to providing tax fairness, permitting local governments to decide local issues, and permanently deleting Jim Crow language from our governing document — also guarantee Alabamians that their property will not be taken by local governments to be used for other private purposes.

The power to limit government's exercise of eminent domain can be ours — if the Legislature acts now. Contact your state legislators and demand a new constitution for the state of Alabama.

David Carpenter

Birmingham

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