CASH Courier > Fall 2002 / Winter 2003 Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier
From the Fall 2002 / Winter 2003 Issue

What’s a Pennsylvanian To Do?

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 misguided.

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 rabies.

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.


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