Rangers shut down 60 snake poaching traps in Santa Monica Mountains' Decker Canyon

An up-close look at a California kingsnake.
An up-close look at a California kingsnake. Pacific Southwest Region USFWS via Flickr

Holes dug in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area that are topped with slabs of plywood or carpet could look like litter to the average passerby. But to the rangers, the scene in Decker Canyon was evidence of something else: snake poaching. 

Boards of plywood and carpet covering holes are a common way to set snake traps.
Boards of plywood and carpet covering holes are a common way to set snake traps. National Park Service

Trouper Snow, chief ranger in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said that it's common for species in the national parks and protected areas to end up as locations for poaching because of the good habitat provided for wildlife.

He said that, in Decker Canyon, there is no explicit evidence that snakes were taken — but to him it seems pretty apparent. Rangers have come across more than 60 of the covered holes.

“One could certainly imagine with certainty that if you have 60-plus traps set up there will be snakes that were trapped," Snow told KPCC. 

The traps work because the carpet and plywood provide an attractive shade for snakes to rest, "like baiting a bear with honey," according to the Santa Monica Mountains website. Snow said that once they are inside, it's difficult for snakes to climb out of the trap. Snow said that this is a well-known method for catching snakes, even under legal circumstances for research purposes.

Rangers work to clean up snake traps throughout Decker Canyon.
Rangers work to clean up snake traps throughout Decker Canyon. National Park Service

Snow said that snake species targeted in the Santa Monica Mountains include the California kingsnake and the rosy boa. 

"They’re well-known throughout the reptile community and they’re just beautiful species,” Snow said. 

Wildlife trafficking is a $19 billion per year worldwide business, according to Vice. Snow referred to it as the "black-market pet trade." 

“It’s unlawful to collect, disturb, destroy, molest any wildlife or resources within the park,” Snow said. 

Under the Lacey Act, "it is unlawful to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase fish, wildlife or plants that are taken, possessed, transported, or sold," in violation of U.S. law or interstate and foreign commerce policies, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Snow said that getting rid of the traps in Decker Canyon took place a couple of weeks ago, but the rangers saw it as an opportunity to get the word out about snake poaching in a blog published Tuesday

"We encourage everybody to come to the park and enjoy the wildlife and the nature that’s here," Snow said. "We just want everybody to be able to enjoy that for future generations." 

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