RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina mountain town's tradition of lowering a caged possum to celebrate New Year's Eve could be in jeopardy following a judge's ruling.
Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison ruled Tuesday that the state Wildlife Resources Commission doesn't have the power to grant a special permit for Brasstown's annual Possum Drop. The agency must get the General Assembly to pass legislation allowing such permits, or the commission needs to change its rules, the judge said.
Clay Logan, who started the event 20 years ago and catches each animal used, has 30 days to appeal Morrison's ruling – and possibly get a stay until the case can be heard. If not, the Possum Drop will likely be off this Dec. 31.
Despite the name, no possum is dropped at the event, which attracts thousands to the tiny hamlet near the state's western tip. Rather, the captive critter is suspended in a see-through box covered with holiday tinsel and gently lowered to the ground at midnight.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed suit to stop the event, calling it illegal and cruel. The organization argued that the stress from the event could kill the possum, which is a timid animal.
Logan has a license to catch animals, but Wildlife Resources Commission rules prevent wildlife from remaining in captivity unless they are being rehabilitated after injury. He traditionally has obtained a special permit from the commission to keep a possum until after the New Year's Eve event, when the animal is released back into the wild.
"Nothing in the statutes and regulations gives WRC officials discretion to waive mandatory permitting requirements or to invent 'special' permits for activities that 'do not fit' into ... the existing permitting regulations," Morrison wrote in his ruling.
"Citizens are prohibited from capturing and using wild animals for pets or amusement," he concluded. "Hunters must afford wild animals the same right Patrick Henry yearned for: 'Give me liberty, or give me death!'"
"Compassionate citizens can now look forward to a kinder celebration at Clay's Corner this New Year's Eve," PETA spokesman David Perle said.