GERMANTOWN — The state Humane Association is asking a local sporting organization to call off an annual squirrel hunt, but the group that hosts the event defended the hunt as an environmentally safe way to reduce the squirrel population.
The annual Germantown Sportsmen’s Association Squirrel Scramble is scheduled to be held Feb. 27. The Humane Association sent a letter to the Sportsmen’s Association asking them to cancel the event, saying hunting squirrels for sport is cruel.
“There’s no reason for it, it’s a contest,” said Dr. Harold Hovel, chairman of the New York State Humane Association. “Whoever kills the most squirrels, whoever kills the biggest weight or the largest squirrel, they get prizes for it. Basically it’s what they call a fun day out to kill these unassuming, inoffensive creatures. And they can get away with it because New York state allows it to happen.”
Hovel said seven states have outlawed squirrel hunting and New York and several other states have looked at legislation to outlaw the practice, but it has not passed elsewhere.
The Germantown sportsmen’s group defended the competition.
“We feel strongly that our event is legal, a traditional sporting activity and protects the environment from overpopulation,” according to a statement from the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association. “We also feel that this can be a positive experience for those involved.”
The Germantown Sportsmen’s Association is going ahead with plans to hold the event, according to the statement.
“A Humane Association from Kingston has targeted the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association for holding a legal sporting event,” according to the Sportsmen’s Association.
Since announcing its seventh annual Squirrel Scramble, some members have received threatening and vulgar phone messages and emails from people all over the country, according to the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association.
The messages and letters have indicated they will be using the press, protesting and legislation to stop the event, according to the statement.
“While the Humane Association presents a number of their opinions as facts that are not accurate, many of their supporters are using threats and bullying to express themselves,” according to the Sportsmen’s Association.
During the Scramble, registered teams of two hunt squirrels. A cash prize is awarded for first place to the team with the heaviest set of legal limit squirrels, according to the Sportsmen’s Assocoation. Bonus weight is given for red or black squirrels.
Several comments on the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association website raised the idea that squirrels are considered a rodent and that hunting them may be helpful. Other comments suggested some people hunt squirrels not just for sport, but for meat.
“A lot of these targeted animals like squirrels are wounded but not killed,” Hovel said. “Then they suffer. So they either bleed to death, or they get infections and some of them are mothers that have babies in a nest somewhere and the babies die from starvation. There’s definitely cruelty involved.”
Squirrel hunting is legal in the state. The season in most of New York runs for about six months from Sept. 1 to Feb. 28. There is a daily bag limit of six squirrels, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Red squirrels are not protected and are allowed to be caught at any time without limit.
The Squirrel Scramble is open to men, women and youth hunters. According to the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association statement, the hunt originated as a youth event for junior members to encourage hunters 12-15 to experiencing hunting and the outdoors while participating with a parent or adult.
The event promotes hunter safety and learning state hunting rules and regulations. Any harvested game that is not kept by the participants is saved for their annual game dinner and offered to local wildlife rehabilitators who use it to feed birds of prey and animals that will be released into the wild so they can maintain their hunting instincts.
“One thing those of us in the humane movement worry about is what is this teaching children,” Hovel said. “It’s teaching them that it’s OK to kill things, that it’s fun to kill things. They are immune to the cruelty of it because that’s never brought up by the people that take part. It’s bad all around for not only wildlife but the rest of us in society.”
A change.org petition was launched Sunday entitled,” STOP the Cruel Squirrel killing contest in Germantown, NY! STOP The Squirrel Scramble!” As of Monday afternoon, the petition contained 546 signatures.
The Squirrel Scramble is not a unique event and a lot of hunting organizations hold similar events where a number of different animals, such as squirrels, foxes or coyotes are hunted, Hovel said.
He said he has not heard of an organization canceling their hunting event because of a letter asking them to do so.