GERMANTOWN — The state Humane Association is asking a local sports organization to cancel an annual squirrel hunt, but the group that organizes the event defended the hunt as an environmentally safe way to reduce the squirrel population.
The Germantown Sportsmen’s Association Squirrel Scramble is scheduled for February 27. The Humane Association sent a letter to the Sports 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, president of the New York State Humane Association. “Whoever kills the most squirrels, whoever kills the biggest weight or the biggest squirrel, gets prizes for it. It’s basically what they call a fun day to kill these harmless, unassuming creatures. And they can get away with it because the state of New York allows it to happen.”
Hovel said seven states have banned squirrel hunting and New York and several other states have considered legislation to ban the practice, but it hasn’t been passed anywhere else.
The Germantown sports group defended the competition.
“We strongly believe that our event is legal, a traditional sporting activity and protects the environment from overcrowding,” according to a statement from the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association. “We also believe that this can be a positive experience for those involved.”
The Germantown Sports Association is moving forward with plans to hold the event, according to the statement.
“A Kingston Humane Association has attacked the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association for holding a legal sporting event,” according to the Sportsmen’s Association.
Since its seventh annual Squirrel Scramble was announced, some members have received threatening and vulgar phone messages and emails from people across the country, according to the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association.
Messages and letters have indicated that they will use the press, protests and legislation to stop the event, according to the statement.
“While the Humane Association presents many of its opinions as facts that are not accurate, many of its supporters use threats and harassment to express themselves,” according to the Sportsmen’s Association.
During the Scramble, registered teams of two hunting squirrels. A cash prize for first place is awarded to the team with the heaviest set of legal limit squirrels, according to the Sportsmen’s Association. Additional weight is given for red or black squirrels.
Several comments on the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association website raised the idea that squirrels are considered rodents and that hunting them can be useful. Other comments suggested that some people hunt squirrels not only for sport, but also for their meat.
“Many of these targeted animals, like squirrels, are injured but not killed,” Hovel said. “So they suffer. So either they bleed to death or they get infections and some of them are mothers having babies in a nest somewhere and the babies starve. There is definitely cruelty involved.”
Squirrel hunting is legal in the state. The season in most of New York lasts about six months, from September 1 to February 28. There is a daily catch limit of six squirrels, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Red squirrels are not protected and can be caught at any time with no limit.
The Squirrel Scramble is open to men, women and junior hunters. According to the Germantown Sportsmen’s Association statement, the hunt originated as a youth event for young members to encourage hunters ages 12 to 15 to experience hunting and the outdoors while participating with a parent or adult.
The event promotes hunter safety and learning about state hunting rules and regulations. Any harvested game that is not saved by participants is saved for their annual game dinner and offered to local wildlife rehabilitators who use it to feed raptors and animals that will be released back into the wild so they can keep their hunting instincts.
“Something that concerns those of us in the humanitarian movement is what it is teaching children,” Hovel said. “It’s teaching them that it’s okay to kill things, that it’s fun to kill things. They are immune to cruelty because the people involved never mention it. It’s bad for everyone, not just wildlife, but the rest of us in society.”
A change.org petition was launched on Sunday titled, “STOP Cruel Squirrel Killing Contest in Germantown, NY! STOP the squirrel fight!” As of Monday afternoon, the petition contained 546 signatures.
The Squirrel Scramble is not a one-time event and many hunting organizations host similar events where several different animals, such as squirrels, foxes or coyotes, are hunted, Hovel said.
He said he hasn’t heard of an organization canceling their hunt event because of a letter asking them to do so.