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Don’t be surprised if you see more rattlesnakes on East Bay trails this summer

on June 15, 2022

Sandra Rose hikes frequently in East Bay Regional Parks and is no stranger to rattlesnakes. Last month, she saw three in one week. 

“We all heard the hiss as the snake went up the hill.” Rose said, referring to a hike in Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in Oakland.

Rose says she expects to see snakes in the park.

“They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them,” she said. “I’m not scared of them, I think they’re fascinating.” 

Last month, the East Bay Regional Park District issued an advisory to warn park users that they are likely to see more rattlesnakes in the summer months. And as climate change increases the length and temperature of the season, these rattlesnake sightings may become more frequent. 

The system includes 73 parks in Alameda and Contra Costa counties — 125,000 acres from shoreline to hills. People have access to many activities in the parks such as hiking, biking, climbing, and fishing. The parks also provide a habitat for an array of animals, including rattlesnakes. 

A recent study published in Ecology and Evolution says that rattlesnakes in central California may benefit from rising temperatures, which allow them to be active for more months of the year. That could result in higher reproductive rates, the study notes, meaning there may be more rattlesnakes sharing trails with hikers in years to come. 

With climate change, we may see more rattlesnakes in East Bay parks and for more months of the year. (Contributed photo by East Bay Regional Park District Naturalist Kevin Dixon)

Brian Todd, a conservation biologist at UC Davis, said scientists are still studying the connection between rattlesnakes and drought, but they already know that animals generally will travel to find water.

“Every animal needs water and when it’s scarce, they’re going to start showing up in the few places where you have it,” Todd said. “Those are usually places that are irrigated for either agriculture or around people’s homes, or in streams and ponds, or parks that have water bodies in them.”

The best way to ensure your safety in parks is to stay on the trail, pay attention to your surroundings, and stay away from snakes if you see them. Jen Vanya, spokesperson for the East Bay Park District, said park officials urge people to be mindful of where they are recreating. 

“Just take a look around, see the surrounding areas by your feet, look underneath where you might not be able to see clearly from just the standing position so that you’re not surprised by anything that might be hanging out underneath,” Vanya said. 

How to avoid a run-in with coyotes, which are interacting more with humans in the Bay Area

Many rattlesnake bites are avoidable. Todd said that most in the United States occur when people approach the reptiles. 

“One of the easiest ways to avoid getting bitten by a rattlesnake is to just leave them alone,” Todd said. “That, far and away would get rid of more than half of all rattlesnake bites.”

If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, East Bay Parks officials advise that you call 911 and lie flat, with the affected limb placed below your heart. Do not try to extract the venom or place a tourniquet. If you are alone, walk, do not run, to the nearest phone to call for help. 

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