RALEIGH — Between the bear stew, the musket blasts and the cross-dressing truck drivers, the Brasstown Opossum Drop offered the states liveliest party on New Years Eve without a drop of mountain moonshine.
But this year, revelers will mark the years last minutes without Brasstowns fur-covered bigwig, the festivals namesake. The possum drop will have no possum not a live one, at least.
An administrative law judge ruled Tuesday that the state cannot issue a special permit allowing a caged marsupial to be lowered 20 feet over a stage a 20-year tradition once profiled in The New York Times and the highlight of the mountain towns celebration.
Hunters must afford wild animals the same right Patrick Henry yearned for, Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. wrote in his order. Give me liberty, or give me death!
The decision hands a victory to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which sued the state in December and has long argued that confining a possum and subjecting it to loud noises and heavy crowds constitutes cruel treatment, regardless of it being released into the wild after the event. Two years ago, PETA made similar charges about the handling of Punxsutawney Phil, proposing that the Pennsylvania town use a robotic groundhog instead.
Compassionate citizens can now look forward to a kinder celebration at Clays Corner this New Years Eve, said PETA spokesman David Perle.
PETA has famously sued Sea World over the slavery of killer whales and Kentucky Fried Chicken over the treatment of poultry. But the animal rights groups case against the Opossum Drop didnt hinge on cruelty.
Rather, PETA argued that the publics right to enjoy wildlife is curtailed if the state allows citizens to set up temporary zoos, and that the state Wildlife Resources Commission had no right to issue a permit allowing Clay Logan to display a possum at his country store.
Logan had a sportsmans license and could have killed the animal, which was in season at the time. But he didnt meet standards for either a license or a permit to keep animals in captivity, PETA argued, and no statute permitted the WRC to allow possum-caging on a special and temporary basis.
Morrison agreed. Killing the animal was lawful; confining it was not.
WRC should therefore have instructed Logan to immediately release the opossum into the wild where the opossum had been captured, or kill it, Morrison wrote in his order.
The WRC will consult with legal counsel and decide whether to appeal to Superior Court of Wake County. The appeal must be filed within 30 days.
Though popular enough to merit national media coverage, the Opossum Drop has drawn other pleas for kindness to small critters. The comments section for Clays Corner Web sites asks that New Years Eve partiers consider the possums feelings.
But Logan is sensitive to such remarks. He once told a CBS News team There are probably opossums up around my house with little signs saying, Use me next year! His Web site carries this note:
The opossum is not actually dropped, it is lowered with great care. We treat our little friend with respect, hold him in awe, and do not inflict any injury or traumatize God's creature of the night.
Reached Tuesday, Logan said hell wait to see if the state appeals the decision.
Its been dragging on for a year, he said. Well just abide by what the law says. Well have the Opossum Drop. Im just not sure what well have ...
In a town that sometimes bills itself as Opossum Capital of the World, a robot marsupial may have to greet the new year.
Shaffer: (919) 829-4818