By Nicole Rivard
Holley, N.Y., sent a message to protesters Saturday during its Fire Department’s annual “Squirrel Slam,” a fundraiser that rewards adults and children for killing the heaviest squirrels. “This is our town, you can’t change us,” read a sign held by a hunting supporter.
But Friends of Animals had a message of its own, one that extends far beyond Holley. It isn’t just trying to change the minds of participants in the gruesome event or members of the Holley, N.Y. Fire Department—FoA won’t be satisfied until legislation is passed that makes all animal killing contests banned throughout New York State so that no animals have to die needlessly.
“Squirrels are like the gateway drugs for young hunters. This type of contest desensitizes kids to killing and then they move on to larger animals like deer,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals FOA.
One of the most disturbing scenes of the day was a young girl walking down the street with a pizza box full of dead squirrels that she was bringing to be weighed inside the Holley Fire Department. Later teenagers in a Jeep drove back and forth in front of protesters, waving the corpses of dead squirrels out of the windows.
One hunter defended the event, which started eight years ago, saying it was skillful hunting, not torturing animals, however an FoA supporter who lives locally pointed out that she has friends who are hunters and even they think animal killing contests like the “Squirrel Slam” are a disgrace. Holley Fire Chief Pete Hendrickson admitted that the Fire Department is divided over whether or not to host another “Squirrel Slam” after FoA’s New York director handed more than 5,500 names of people from around the world who opposed the event in an online petition. And local residents who stood with FoA were embarrassed that the “Squirrel Slam” is what is putting Holley on the map.
Carol Beaton was among the FoA supporters, holding up her sign that read “Support Non-Violent Fundraisers” on one side and “Firefighters Save Lives, Not Take Them,” on the other.
“It’s heart-wrenching, but I feel like if you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem,” she told the media gathered to shine a light on the controversial event as hunters walked by with dead squirrels in plastic bags.
An estimated 400 hunters participated in the “Squirrel Slam,” and each could take six squirrels, which adds up to potentially 2,400 dead squirrels for no good reason since last year FoA offered to match what the Fire Department could make if they agreed to pull the plug on the mass event.
In contrast, there are several good reasons for keeping squirrels alive that participants in the “Squirrel Slam” seem ignorant of. While they pride themselves on teaching their children about responsible gun handling, they neglect to teach them anything about respect for wildlife and responsibility for the environment.
In his book, “Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide,” Richard Thorington Jr. admits to being asked why squirrels are important, and replies: “We scarcely know where to start. We have an impressive list of answers to present them,” including squirrels as prey items and as ecosystem engineers, playing a significant role in the regeneration of forests around the world as agents of dispersal. Squirrels are considered key dispersers of at least nine genera of nut bearing trees and at least one species of conifer.
Ironically, participants in the Holley Fire Department fundraiser might as well just burn down parts of their local forests considering the mass killing of an important species like the squirrel is so damaging to the ecosystem.
On a more positive note, FoA is not alone in protesting animal killing contests. Earlier this month California’s Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to consider a ban on hunting contests such as a secretive coyote drive in Modoc County, with one Commissioner suggesting such contests are unethical. The 4-0 vote launches a formal rule-making process during which public comment will be solicited as the Commission considers a ban on such contests in California.
In New York Senate Bill # 4074 and Assembly Bill # 03661 were introduced last year and would finally put an end to all competitions based on shooting and killing animals. The bills are gaining support but more work needs to be done.
“Killing contests like the ‘Squirrel Slam’ provide an incentive to children and adults to shoot many animals to win prizes— a disturbing, irrational activity that’s out-of-pace with New York culture and must end throughout the state,” said N.Y. state Sen. Tony Avella, who created the bill.
“I believe it is an obligation and honor to advance legislation that will protect and maintain the beauty and health of New York State wildlife,” added N.Y. state Assembly member Deborah J. Glick, who supports the bill.
“Any competition that encourages and glorifies the slaughter of innocent animals for no purpose has no place in our state,” said N.Y. state Sen. Jack Martins, one of the sponsors of the bill.
After the “Squirrel Slam” concluded, Edita Birnkrant, NY Director of FoA, thanked supporters for coming out to the protest.
“We have to do this, we have to put this event in the spotlight. The people of Holley want this event under the radar,” Birnkrant said. “When we went up to Albany to lobby for the bills last year a lot of politicians didn’t even know about these animal killing contests and that they were legal. This is how you affect change.”
Here’s how you can affect change and help get a bill passed to make animal killing contests illegal in New York before Holley has another chance to host a “Squirrel Slam.”
● New York residents should contact their state legislators, and ask them to sign on as co-sponsors and urge passage of the bill to ban wildlife-killing contests in NY—Senate bill #4074 and Assembly bill #03661.
● Contact NY state Sen. Mark Grisanti, chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, where the bills are evaluated before being sent to the floor for a final decision, and tell him you support Senate bill #4074. Buffalo Office : 65 Court St. Room 213 Buffalo, NY 14202. Phone: 716-854-8705 Fax: 716-854-3051 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
● Contact Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, and tell him you support Assembly Bill #03661. District Office: 640 West Montauk Highway Lindenhurst, NY 11757-5538. Phone: 631-957-2087 Email: email@example.com
● Write a letter to the editor to one of New York’s larger newspapers expressing support for Senate Bill #4074 and Assembly Bill #03661.