Barring a change in state law, the annual New Year’s Eve Possum Drop in the mountains of North Carolina will have to carry on without a live animal.
The North Carolina Wildlife Commission on Thursday filed for dismissal from a pending court fight over whether it can issue a permit allowing event organizer Clay Logan to trap a wild opossum. Traditionally, the fuzzy marsupial was suspended in a clear box adorned with tinsel and gently lowered to the ground at midnight, then released.
The commission’s decision to withdraw hands victory to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which called the Possum Drop cruel. The organization filed a court challenge last year over whether the state could legally permit a wild animal to be displayed in such a manner.
“In recognizing that captive wildlife species shouldn’t be needlessly harassed, North Carolina has taken a welcome step forward,” said Delcianna Winders, PETA’s director of captive animal law enforcement.
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N.C. Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison ruled in November that it is improper for the state to issue Logan a permit. The commission appealed in Wake County Superior Court for a review of the case, but Thursday’s withdrawal ends that process, leaving Morrison’s ruling to stand.
Logan’s annual Possum Drop draws thousands to tiny Brasstown, located in the far western tip of North Carolina near the state’s borders with Tennessee and Georgia. A lawyer for PETA suggested in court that it is inhumane and traumatic to expose a typically shy, nocturnal marsupial to big crowds, loud music and fireworks.
Supporters of the tradition say the captured opossums are well feed and cared for, far better off than the flattened carcasses routinely spotted on local roadsides. It is also legal under state law to hunt opossums using spotlights and dogs.
In an attachment to the form dismissing the case, the commission said it strongly disagreed with Morrison’s ruling but agreed state law does not explicitly give the agency authority to regulate the display of wildlife. To contest the case further in court would potentially be a waste of limited state resources, the commission said.
Logan has made clear it is his intent for the annual event to go on, opossum or no opossum.
To mark the start of 2013, Logan lowered an opaque padlocked box wrapped with photos of opossums at the stroke of midnight, not revealing what was inside. As he pointed out in interviews that night, the holiday revelers still had a good time.
“You gotta have faith,” Logan said. “It don’t really matter what’s in the box.”
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck