Pete is a young 700-pound moose, but he’s no ordinary moose. He has an unusual tale and now he and some other animals are caught in the grind of policy-makers in Vermont.
When Pete was only a few days old, he was attacked by hikers’ dogs and abandoned by his mother and another sibling. Despite being told by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to leave Pete where he was and let him die if his mother did not return, they brought him milk replacer and got in touch with David Lawrence, who took Pete in and nursed him back to health.
Lawrence brought Pete to Big Rack Ridge, a 700-acre preserve in Irasburg, owned by Doug Nelson where there are deer, other moose and imported elk.
Two years ago when state laws mandated that Pete be moved or destroyed because the native animals should not be mixing with farm-raised elk due to risk of spreading disease, Vermont’s Gov. Jim Douglas granted Pete a pardon and asked Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Wayne Larouche to find a solution for the moose.
Activists worried that Pete would have to be killed and started a “Save Pete the Moose” movement that garnered national attention with a website, a Facebook page with thousands of fans, thousands of YouTube hits and a rally at the Statehouse.
A last minute compromise was made by the Vermont Legislature, and Pete, along with his companion deer and elk were designated a “special purpose herd,” and were allowed to continue to live at the preserve.
Now state lawmakers are being urged to reconsider.
Hunters and wildlife officials contend that allowing Nelson to own wild animals sets a dangerous precedent violating the policy that wild animals are part of a public trust and cannot be owned by an individual. They say this has given Nelson the ability to sell the right to shoot native deer trapped inside a square-mile enclosure instead of letting the herds remain open to the public.
“It was a terrible mistake made last year in giving private ownership of native wildlife to an individual,” said Patrick Berry, commissioner of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Berry said that allowing native species like white-tailed deer and moose to mix with imported elk and their feed could introduce chronic wasting disease that could spread to wildlife on the other side of the fence.
Nelson told a legislative committee that he tests his animals for disease. There have also been no reports of it in the state.
Nelson opposes a bill that would transfer jurisdiction over the preserve from the state Agency of Agriculture back to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The bill, H.91, sponsored by Rep. David Deen, asks for a solution to be worked out between Nelson and wildlife officials. The animals may be removed in a controlled hunt or relocated.
Now, it looks like Pete and the other animals might get another chance. On Thursday, Governor Peter Schumlin pledged to pardon Pete.
“You know I think there has been a lesson for all of this which is don’t take publicly owned wildlife and put it in private hands. I think the best way to solve this problem is to make sure it does not happen again. And let’s let the existing wildlife at the farm continue to live,” said Shumlin. “I would like to pardon them all.”
He deferred to biologists to answer the question of how to deal with the remaining animals.
Berry stated that the other animals cannot be allowed to live in the enclosure, nor can they be set free. He is urging lawmakers to ensure that Nelson depopulates the property within three years.