PETA will appear in court on Monday to block Brasstown's Possum Drop

mhankerson@newsobserver.comDecember 21, 2013 

A possum is lowered in a plastic cage in front of an enthusiastic crowd January 1, 2010 at the annual "Possum Drop" in Brasstown, NC. Photo by Charles "Stretch" Ledford

CHARLES "STRETCH" LEDFORD

— The state’s wildlife regulators have issued a permit allowing the organizer of the annual “Possum Drop” in Brasstown to capture a possum for this year’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

But attorneys for the state Wildlife Resources Commission and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will be in court in Raleigh on Monday, where the animal-welfare organization will try to block the event one more time.

The Wildlife Resources Commission gave Clay Logan a permit on Friday. But PETA wants to make sure the hunt and the drop don’t happen.

Licensing means that the commission must make sure the licensee is qualified to handle the animal, that the captivity of the animal is humane, and that the captivity is in the best interest of wildlife protection and conservation.

In this case, Peet said, none of those requirements have been met. She said it was unlikely that Logan had proper training to handle the special needs of possums. With sensitive hearing, extreme shyness and a fear of humans, she said keeping possums away from their natural predators is the most humane option.

Furthermore, they’re the only marsupials naturally found in North America.

For a possum, “the Possum Drop is like being a human in a burning building,” Peet said.

Previous legal proceedings

In the past, PETA has challenged the commission’s authority to grant a permit for Logan’s Possum Drop and asked the court to block the commission from issuing permits during the legal proceedings.

Court documents say that in 2011, Logan applied for a captivity permit but “it was clear to the (commission) that Logan would not qualify for either a captivity license or a captivity permit.” In order for Logan to keep the possum for his drop, he would need the license or a permit.

The documents say the commission created a special permit for him, which PETA claimed was beyond its authority. An administrative law judge agreed.

The state appealed the decision, but then dropped the case. The state was ordered to pay $74,446 to PETA for its legal fees.

Last year, a judge ruled the Wildlife Resources Commission could not issue a permit for Logan’s event unless there was a change in law to allow the commission to issue permits.

In March, the General Assembly passed a bill that gave the commission the power to issue permits. The bill, signed into law the same month, also allows licensed sportsmen to hold animals for display as long as they are returned to the wild when the event is over.

In October, PETA filed a lawsuit challenging the commission’s authority to issue a license or permit for the activity. Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour on Thursday denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case.

Baddour also prohibited the state from issuing a permit or license to Logan after Friday, giving them only a day to file for the permit. The judge ordered the state to appear in court on Monday if it did issue the license or permit after the alotted time.

A contentious history

PETA and Logan’s relationship has been an embattled one.

According to Logan, PETA first shared its concern with him in 2003. He said PETA threatened to sue him around 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. So to avoid any problems, he used a dead possum found in a road.

Since then, he’s tried to pacify the group by responding to its complaints about the event.

In court documents, PETA claims possums are especially scared of humans and have very little tolerance for being held captive. Captivity and humans can send the possum into life-threatening stress that could cause almost immediate death or alter the animal’s ability to find food and shelter afterward.

“If I thought there was anything to traumatize this possum, I wouldn’t do it,” Logan said.

PETA claimed fireworks at the event were too loud for the possum. Logan said he moved the site of the fireworks farther away. According to him, most of his guests can’t even hear them anymore.

PETA also had complaints about muskets Logan uses at the beginning of the celebration. He has changed the schedule of events to make sure the possum doesn’t come to the celebration until the portion with the muskets is over.

“It’s not that I’m being really stubborn … it’s either (PETA’s) way or the highway,” Logan said.

Peet said PETA thought the event itself was good.

She said last year, when Logan used a Plexiglas box with photos of a possum taped to it, it seemed the town had an equally good time as they did using a live possum.

“PETA doesn’t have any issue with the Possum Drop,” Peet said.

“Good, clean, family fun”

Logan’s Possum Drop started about 24 years ago when he took a trip to Mississippi and found canned possum.

He wasn’t sure what it was – usually possum acquired from the road – but he knew it had potential to breathe some life into his small family general store in Brasstown, located in the far southwestern corner of North Carolina.

“The population of Brasstown is small, we hadn’t grown a whole lot in the last 200-300 years,” Logan said. “We had to come up with some kind of gimmick.”

The possum worked. Soon, a neighbor suggested lowering a possum like New York City lowers the ball on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s good, clean, family fun, and there’s no alcohol and everybody brings their kids,” Logan said.

In Brasstown, there isn’t much else to do on New Year’s Eve unless someone wants to travel to Murphy, about 11 miles away.

Logan said he will continue holding the Possum Drop until it’s ruled illegal. In fact, he said it is almost time for him to go on his annual possum hunt in anticipation of the drop.

“We try to find a pretty possum,” he said. “One that’s pretty and has a big grin on it.”

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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