With the arrival of warm weather, rattlesnakes have been showing up in large numbers around the Tri-Valley, according to country dwellers and park rangers.
Every year, local park districts like to remind visitors to stay on trails, keep small children close, keep pets on a leash and stay alert for snakes and other wildlife.
The "staying alert" advice goes for homeowners as well, especially in the countryside.
Northern Pacific rattlesnakes are native to the region. They can be encountered in parks, along roadways and even around people’s homes.
Pat Sotelo, chief ranger at the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District, advises anyone encountering a snake at a park to leave it alone and stay well away.
Notify a ranger if it’s on a trail or in a picnic area, he said. Let the ranger decide whether to approach it and whether to move it.
People who walk through the brush, step over logs without looking and generally fail to pay attention to their surroundings increase their risk of being bitten.
Sotelo pointed out that hikers who wear headphones are also at greater risk. In addition to being distracted, they may not be able to hear a snake’s warning rattle.
Last year, a visitor to LARPD’s Sycamore Park was bitten by a rattlesnake. That was a first, Sotelo said. Dogs had previously been bitten at LARPD parks, but not people.
East Bay Regional Park District, with its many parks and hiking trails, also experiences rattlesnake encounters. It’s not uncommon for hikers to report seeing rattlesnakes. Every year or two, someone gets bitten and needs emergency medical help.
Two years ago this week, a hiker was bitten by a rattlesnake on the trail to Mission Peak in Fremont; a dog was bitten at Del Valle Regional Park south of Livermore.
Rattlesnake encounters are not limited to parks, of course. A ranch owner who lives east of Livermore has killed nine rattlesnakes in the past two or three weeks.
She did so reluctantly, preferring to leave the snakes alone when it is safe to do so – on a hillside away from her house, for example. She accepts rattlesnakes as part of nature and in particular appreciates their role in controlling ground squirrel populations.
She felt she had no choice but to kill the nine rattlesnakes, however. They were in her yard or on her driveway where they could endanger visitors, family members or pets.
In four decades of living in the country, she said, this is the largest surge of rattlesnakes she has encountered.
A friend who also lives east of Livermore was bitten when she stepped out of her door at night wearing sandals, the rancher said.
That experience led to a cautionary tale – a companion drove the victim to a hospital, which had no antivenom. They had to send her by ambulance to a more distant medical facility at the cost of delayed treatment, as well as added expense.
The victim is recovering, but has been in considerable pain, the rancher said.
Anyone bitten by a rattlesnake should of course seek emergency care, but it is normally best to call 911 for professional help, experts say. First responders can give immediate care and take the victim to an appropriate facility which has been alerted that they are coming.
Sotelo, the LARPD chief ranger, points out that a bite will be painful; it’s natural to be agitated, but he emphasizes that it is important to remain as calm as possible while moving away from the snake to avoid further contact.
If the bite happens at a park, Sotelo urges the victim to hail a ranger, who will contact emergency services.
Old-fashioned snakebite remedies like slashing and sucking on the puncture area are useless and likely to cause additional harm, Sotelo and other experts say.