Possum possibility: Stuff it?

November 17, 2012 

There is no joy in Brasstown, except, just possibly, among that far-Western North Carolina hamlet’s possum community. Not after the “Opossum capital of the world” struck out in court.

Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred G. Morrison Jr., deciding a celebrated case, has ruled for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and against the state Wildlife Resources Commission.

The Commission had granted a permit of sorts that legalized the annual custom, which draws sizeable crowds (for Brasstown), of lowering a live possum at midnight on New Year’s Eve. “Of sorts” is the operative phrase, because in 17, count ’em 17, pages of legal logic, Judge Morrison threw strike after strike at the Wildlife Commission’s permit.

In short, the commission couldn’t have legally granted the permit and shouldn’t have even if it could have. In North Carolina, you can shoot a possum (in season) or you can let it be, but you can’t keep it in captivity. Which is what the Brasstown folks do – did – each December before lowering the critter in a see-through cage and then freeing it to enjoy a freezing winter in the woods.

Barring appeal, such is the law. It can be summed up in Morrison’s quotable conclusion, “Hunters must afford wild animals the same right Patrick Henry yearned for: ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’ ” The sentiment is noble, even if Mr. Possum, given the choice, might choose short captivity over lengthy eternity.

For Brasstown, the decision probably means the show will go on, but with a stuffed possum or some such in the starring role. So be it. That acorn we drop in Raleigh isn’t really an acorn.

There is this, though: How does this possum precedent apply to all those captive rodents who emerge each Feb. 2? Are their Groundhog Days numbered?

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