‘Squirrel Slam’ lawsuit gets new life in court
HOLLEY – An environmental advocate trying to stop the “Squirrel Slam” hunting contest sponsored by the Holley Fire Department sees new life for a lawsuit trying to stop the hunting contest held in late February each year.
James Punch, acting Supreme Court justice in Orleans County, on Feb. 19, 2015 dismissed a lawsuit “in its entirety.” Richard Brummel was in court that day after travelling from Long Island.
The case was formally brought by a Wayne County woman, Lauren Sheive, who said the “Slam” wiped out thousands of local squirrels. The lawsuit contended the event required an environmental impact review to assess the impact on the squirrel population.
Punch on Feb. 19, 2015 compared the Squirrel Slam to fishing contest. He said no laws were being broken.
The Appellate Court on Dec. 23 reversed Punch’s decision, and sent the case back to Orleans County.
The Appellate Court didn’t give an opinion on the “Squirrel Slam” itself, but said Punch should have allowed the case to be presented in court instead of dismissing it.
The specific plans for the next steps in the lawsuit are known only by the attorneys, Brummel said. Associate Anup Misra from Winston & Strawn, a New York City law firm, is leading the legal effort. The firm is taking the case pro bono, Brummel said.
“The Appellate Court ruled only on the question of judicial procedure, not on our argument that a government-sponsored mass-killing of animals should be subject to environmental review under state law,” Brummel said in a statement.
The Squirrel Slam attracted a media frenzy in 2013, drawing national and international attention from animal rights’ activists. But by last year, Brummel was one of the few protestors in the Public Square when hunters brought their bags of squirrels to be weighed.
The Holley event is capped at 600 tickets or 300 two-person teams, Fran Gaylord, past chief of the Holley Fire Company, has said.
The hunting season for gray, black and fox squirrel runs from Sept. 1 to Feb. 28 and there is a daily bag limit of 6. Red squirrels may be hunted anytime and there is no limit, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Brummel has said the Holley hunt happens at a time when many squirrels are pregnant. He said thousands of squirrels are eliminated with the Squirrel Slam and that kind of environmental impact should be addressed by the Fire Department.
“It’s really important that these issues be fought,” Brummel told reporters on Feb. 19, 2015. “I couldn’t turn my back on what I thought was an attack on these lovely animals.”
Brummel said Orleans County residents are fortunate to live in an area with open spaces and lots of wildlife. He said Long Island is congested with lots of traffic and not much wildlife.
He didn’t like how Judge Punch compared the squirrel-hunting contest to a fishing derby.
“We have a huge problem with overfishing,” he said. “This isn’t frivolous. We are acting as if we have unlimited resources, whether it’s squirrels, fish, trees or whales.”
Gaylord, past chief of the Fire Department, said none of the hunters are breaking any laws. Although 600 tickets are sold, Gaylord said on Feb. 19, 2015 that only about 120 to 140 of the two-person teams compete. Many people buy tickets to support the fire department and don’t hunt, he said.
The fire department used to only sell about 200 tickets for the fund-raiser, but it could easily sell 1,000 due to the publicity around the Squirrel Slam, Gaylord has said. The event is capped at 600 because that is how many people can fit in the fire hall for refreshments when the hunt is over.
“This is a way of life up here,” Gaylord has said about the contest. “It’s really no different than a fishing derby. You need a license and it has to get weighed.”