By David Cantor
On May 30, 2002, Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive
Director Vernon R. Ross issued a memo to all conservation officers – sometimes
known as "game wardens" – instructing them to kill orphaned
wildlife reported to them by people who had made an effort to rescue
those animals. The memo was intended for employees’ eyes only,
but copies were obtained by some newspaper reporters. Many complaints
to the Game Commission, and denials by the Commission, followed
reports of the memo and animal organizations’ electronic alerts
to their supporters.
Wildlife rehabilitators operate in most Pennsylvania
counties -- more than one in a few counties. Rehabilitators reintroduce
to their natural homes about 50 percent of free-roaming animals
brought into their care, but some animals die of their injuries
or must be euthanized due to irremediable suffering. Game Commission
officers have customarily are among those who bring injured or
orphaned animals, with a few exceptions, to rehabilitators. After
all, the Game Commission licenses the rehabilitators.
Among the wildlife rehabilitators concerned about
the possible destruction of otherwise-healthy animals under the
memo instruction, Roz Wilson, director of the Pennsylvania Wildlife
Center, at Rosedale, was quoted in a The Philadelphia Inquirer article
provided by the Associated Press as saying, "They
will all be shot. Our hands are tied. We can’t do the type of rehab we would
like to do because of what the Game Commission has currently done."
Game Commission spokesperson Jerry Feaser told me
on the phone that the memo did not instruct officers to kill all
orphaned animals they came across but to kill orphaned white-tailed
deer fawns, "because of chronic wasting disease." He
said concerns about the memo’s instruction to officers were therefore
But that is not what the memo says; it only mentions
deer as one species of young animal to be destroyed if found under
human protection. Acknowledging that chronic wasting disease (CWD),
a central-nervous-system disease that has to date mainly been found
in Colorado, Wyoming, and Wisconsin, has not been discovered in
any animal in Pennsylvania, the memo refers to CWD as something
for officers to bring up as "background" by way of explaining
the killing of otherwise-healthy young wildlife.
Illustrating that the Game Commission’s new policy
is not strictly a fawn-killing policy, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported
on July 20, 2002, that an Erie County resident phoned the Commission
about Max, a baby opossum she had rescued and bottle-fed for a
few weeks by after his mother and siblings were killed by a car,
thinking the officer would safely deliver the baby to a rehabilitator.
Instead, the officer claimed the young opossum would
have to be tested for rabies – meaning his head would be cut off – and
fined the rescuer $100.00 for taking in a wild animal without a
permit. A few days later, the Commission phoned the rescuer and
told her Max had tested negative for rabies. Only later did the
Commission acknowledge opossums had months earlier been removed
from Pennsylvania’s official list of animals at high risk for carrying
One particularly troubling aspect of the Executive
Director’s memo – in addition to the fact that it advises officers
to kill orphaned animals "discretely" (sic) – is that
it also advises them to do their killing "humanely." As
articulately explained in Charles Patterson’s recent book Eternal
Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust (New
York: Lantern Books www.lanternbooks.com ,
merely minimizing suffering by a method of killing does not make
killing humane. It is inhumane to kill sentient beings other than
to end irremediable suffering regardless of the method used.
One purpose of the memo is to enforce the Game Commission’s
policy of "keeping wildlife wild." The Commission wants
Pennsylvanians to leave young animals where they find them because
so often a parent is hiding or seeking food and will return to
the offspring. Even to the extent that the Commission may wish
to punish those who violate that policy, however, it is cruel to
do so by killing the animals, especially when accepted euthanasia
methods are not being used (animals may be shot or bludgeoned to
death) and when many of the animals could be returned to the wild
even if they have temporarily been removed. Every animal deserves
a chance and a thorough assessment by a rehabilitator.
Letters opposing this needlessly violent approach
to enforcing Pennsylvania’s wildlife policy can be sent to Mr.
Vernon R. Ross, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Game Commission,
2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.
Pennsylvania residents are also encouraged to send
copies of their letters to their state representatives and senators
explaining that fundamental changes are needed in Pennsylvania
wildlife management, which should not be left to officials who – as
the memo says – only promote "the population’s health and
well-being, rather than to manage for the individual’s, except
when dealing with Threatened or Endangered Species" (sic).
Suffering and death occur in individual beings, not in species.