From the Niagara Falls Reporter
By Frank Parlato
An "animal advocacy group" called Friends of Animals (FoA), founded in 1957, announced that its members plan to "descend" on Holley, N.Y., on Saturday, Feb. 16, to protest the town's 7th Annual "Hazzard County Squirrel Slam."
Holley is a village in the Town of Murray in Orleans County with a population of 1,800.
The Squirrel Slam is a hunting contest and fund-raiser for the Holley Fire Department. It lasts most of the day as teams of two go out into the woods to stalk and still hunt the red and grey squirrel "“ a favorite small game animal "“ and a farmer's pest - in a competition that lands a prize to whoever brings back the biggest squirrel.
The humane society has written a letter asking organizers to consider stopping the event. Other activists have circulated petitions online that have prompted letters, phone calls, and e-mails to village leaders.
Adults and children, 12 and older, with a junior hunting license, requiring that they be accompanied by an adult, are permitted to compete in the Squirrel Slam.
"Holley officials are dead wrong in proceeding with this obscene killing contest involving children as young as 12 -- which offers cash and gun prizes to participants who kill the heaviest squirrels," said Edita Birnkrant, director of Friends of Animals New York.
"Firearms like an AR/22 Semi and other rifles will be raffled off as rewards after dead squirrels are weighed."
In New York, squirrel hunting season begins in September and lasts through February.
Hunters are allowed to take six squirrels a day throughout that six-month period.
"We've lived in this area for 31 years. I don't see a problem and I think it's important for people to know that the meat isn't wasted, the pelts are used," said Kathy Nadelen of Holley.
Squirrel hunting has a long tradition in rural New York, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and elsewhere, since the meat is consumed, the pelts are used and, on top of that, a rise in squirrel population can be a problem to farmers.
Hungry, rural squirrels can wreak havoc on a farm as they dig up newly planted seeds and munch away at apples ripe for picking, leading to sizable crop losses.
Pest experts use chemicals to control squirrels. Farmers, like those in Holley, have a sustainable and time honored solution. In many old farming towns, vegetable farmers turn in their hoes for hunting gear when the weather turns cold. Small-game hunting is a part of rural life.
The protesters plan to come to the Holley Fire Hall, at 7 Thomas Street in Holley and protest outside the hall from 3 to 6 p.m.
Birnkrant said Friends of Animals asked Holley officials to cancel the squirrel-killing contest, while thousands of people across the country signed petitions, sent e-mail messages and called the Fire Chief and Mayor to object to the event.
The Holley Fire Dept. issued a statement saying they respect all opinions and have listened to all sides of this debate. But their event will continue as scheduled and they hope everyone can respect the freedoms and rights of those who wish to participate.
The Friends of Animals president sees a connection with the NRA and, seemingly, suggests that squirrel hunting is something new.
"Squirrels are not shooting targets," Friends of Animals' President Priscilla Feral said, "and the NRA's brainwashing scheme to indoctrinate children to seize guns -- and then to create a spectacle of dead animals for prize money and firearms is a disastrous, convoluted idea."
Wolf hunting, hunting with hounds, bear hunting and bow and arrow hunting of deer by Native Americans have all been protested in the last year.
Alex Robinson of Outdoor Life wrote, "How far we have fallen when it's controversial for kids to spend a day squirrel hunting with their parents."
In many rural areas, hunting is tradition, considered a way of life for a father to teach his son how to hunt. The owning of a first rifle, and the ability for a boy to provide food for himself and his family is a rite of passage into manhood.
Other local groups, such as Animal Advocates of Western New York, and Animal Rights Activists of Upstate New York, plan to join the demonstration they say "to raise the conscience of people inside and outside the Holley community," FoA reports.
FoA apparently does not require members to be vegetarians, prompting one critic to ask, "Do they believe that the brutal corporate raising and cruel slaughter of animals in slaughterhouses is preferable for meat eaters than the taking of game for meat?"
"A national conversation on gun violence is happening now in our country, and killing contests such as Holley's 'Squirrel Slam' subvert a civilized human culture --brainwashing children to think guns are cool and that terrorizing and killing animals is a fun, rewarded activity," FoA said in a written statement.
"On February 16, Holley will be filled with animal advocates who believe that violent, regressive events like the 'Squirrel Slam' need to bite the dust," Birnkrant says. "There are plenty of creative, entertaining ways to raise monies that don't involve prompting children to kill animals with guns."