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Diatribe: The Hazzard County Squirrel Slam.

02/01/2013

SlamTHISSquirrelTree Rats, Bushy Tails, Squacks or Nut Grabbers … whatever you want to call them … they’re still squirrels.  And you either love them or you hate them.  Personally, I’m “pro-squirrel”.  I like robosquirrels, squirrels that can pull fire alarms and Minsk the rescued squirrel.  I like them all.  While they can certainly be a nuisance, particularly in large groups, it’s hard to deny that they’re cute and entertaining.  Recently, the squirrels of rural upstate New York have become the center of worldwide debate.

On February 16, 2013, the Holley Fire Department will host its seventh annual “Hazzard County Squirrel Slam” fundraiser.

squirrel slam advEach year, the fire department organizes a massive squirrel hunt (named for the fictional rural Georgia county that served as home to Bo and Luke Duke in the early 1980s television series The Dukes of Hazzard), sells tickets and hands out prizes for the best carcasses.  (“Reds & grays only!” says the rules.)  For a fee of ten dollars per participant, two-person teams will compete in various age groups in an effort to kill the heaviest squirrel.  Prizes range from fifty to two hundred dollars and there are planned raffles throughout the course of the event awarding a variety of rifles and shotguns as prizes.  Money raised by the event is traditionally used to help offset the cost of equipment used by the all-volunteer fire department.  This year, however, thanks to social media like Facebook and Change.org the squirrels have many more allies.

News of this year’s hunt is spreading quickly online and opponents are trying to put a stop to it with petitions, letter writing, etc.

“It is our position that events such as the Squirrel Slam display insensitivity to the suffering of animals and condone animal abuse as an acceptable form of entertainment.  Many of our supporters are equally as incredulous that such an event is being promoted in our community.” – Alice Calabrese, Humane Society of Greater Rochester

The rules for the Squirrel Slam indicate that children as young as twelve-years-old are allowed to participate.

“What clicked about this event was the cycle of violence and encouraging children to harm and kill for money.  To kill something is a very profound act.” – Psychologist Gay Bradshaw of The Kerulos Center

“Pure barbarism.” – Psychology Today

“It bothers me that with all the violence with Newtown, with what happened with the wonderful firefighters in West Webster that were killed, that they would encourage something like that especially in light of current events.” – Lauren Barrows Chiaramonte, New York Squirrel Lovers Club

Some detractors are thinking only of the squirrels.

“Giving prizes for the heaviest, the mommas will be the heaviest, and they’ll be leaving orphan babies in the nests and to leave baby squirrels to starve is cruel and heartless.” – Julie Gallagher of squirrelplanet.org

The Holley Fire Department has released the following statement.

“Our upcoming fundraiser has been in place for multiple years. We are diligent in making sure that all laws set by the state of New York are adhered to. His event has shown to be successful for many years without a negative outcome to our community. Members of the community use the game gathered for food and for their pelts. The department has decided to proceed with our scheduled derby and raffle February 16. The fire company also hopes that citizens respect the freedoms and rights of those who choose to participate and support this event.” – Holley Fire Department

Oddly enough, there doesn’t appear to be an outcry from local residents.

“There’s a lot of people locally that spend time with their families and come do this hunt.  They come down and have a good time.  It’s like a fishing derby, and the only difference is it’s with squirrels.  We usually have people arguing over taking them for food.  Some people take their game home and some leave it here for others to take.  And, I’ve had people argue over the pelts too.” – Holley Fired Department Chief Pete Hendrickson

Surprisingly, I tend to agree with Chief Hendrickson in that I find this to be no different from a fishing derby.  Perhaps there’s something psychological about the fact that we can actually see the squirrels but not the fish that makes a difference.  Maybe this is a good way to teach hunting safety and to promote good sportsmanship while also raising money for a good cause in the community.  On the other hand … maybe it’s an unnecessary slaughter of innocent animals for sport and amusement.

Where do YOU fall in this debate?

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4 Comments
  1. I liken this event to the annual black bear hunt in NW Ontario. Years ago, there was a big movement to stop the bear hunt every spring. Since it went to a vote, the people in Toronto out-voted the people in the north where the population is scarce. A lot of people used the bear hunt for food & for the furs, especially the natives. That spring we were overrun with black bears. They were coming right into town, overturning garbage cans & scaring people! The Ministry of Natural Resources would set cage traps for them & when they caught a bear they would transport the bear hundreds of kilometres north to get it away from town. But then these same bears would raid the garbage cans at the mines in the area, so the mine would trap the bears & bring them back south. The bears were spending a lot of time being transported back & forth. They were getting sick because they wasn’t enough fresh food for them & they were eating garbage from the dump & getting plastic bags stuck in their intestines, etc. Some of them had to be killed because they had no fear of humans & were becoming bold about coming into town to raid garbage cans & couldn’t be run off with just noise anymore. All of it was caused by people feeling sorry for the bears. While I realize we need to be congnizant of how we promote violence, perhaps this hunt keeps the squirrels in the area in check? I’m sure prizes other than guns would be more appropriate.

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