“The Lorax,” Dr. Seuss’s 1971 fable chronicling the push and pull between capitalism and the environment in fictional Thneedville, has been the subject of many library story-hours, an animated movie and a Broadway musical.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel at the N.C. Court of Appeals mentioned the Seuss character who spoke for the Truffula trees in a case about who could speak for the Virginia opossum – the wild animal that under a North Carolina law enacted in 2015 has no wildlife protections for seven days each year.
At issue was whether People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the animal rights group that has been fighting the New Year’s Eve Brasstown Possum Drop for more than four years, has standing in North Carolina courts to fight legal issues related to the captivity and use of a possum for the annual event.
Attorneys for Gordon Myers, executive director of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which is tasked with issuing wildlife captivity licenses, argued that PETA did not, hoping to quash the organization’s ability to proceed in court.
In the end, the three judges said that their weighing of a decision by Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins was moot after the General Assembly changed state law last year to exclude the Virginia ‘possum – the nocturnal marsupial – from North Carolina wildlife protections from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.
“The Lorax speaks for the trees, but the question presented by this case is whether anyone may speak for the opossums, particularly the Virginia opossums found in Clay County, North Carolina, during late December through early January each year...,” Judge Donna Stroud wrote for the state appellate panel in an April 5 ruling. “Both plaintiff/petitioners and defendants/respondents claim the right to speak for the opossums, but the General Assembly has passed a law which says, in effect, that no one may speak for the Virginia opossums during the relevant time period.”
Appellate Judges Mark A. Davis and Richard Dietz were in unanimous agreement.
This past New Year’s Eve, Possum Drop organizer Clay Logan, the crossroads store owner who started the event, lowered a live possum for the first time in three years. In 2014, as controversy brewed, he lowered a pot of possum stew in the plexiglass box used in the New Year’s tradition.
Logan has called the event – in which a possum is caught, caged and lowered to the ground, then released – a “redneck response” to the ball dropped in New York City’s Times Square.
But the tradition troubles animal rights advocates who argue that lowering the caged animal amid musket fire, fireworks and loud music is cruelty that could be lethal.
The ruling Tuesday did not touch on the legality of the 2015 law. That case is pending.