Free at Last! Free at Look a Leaf!

California ferrets on the verge of amnesty

Photo by Davis BarberFor decades in California, the common domestic ferret has been the subject of vigorous persecution. Roughly 100,000 of the sock-stealing illegals cowered behind furniture and underneath beds, lest they find themselves arrested and even executed by the animal world's version of La Migra, the California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG).

But state Senate Bill 1093 would legalize ferrets already here, and it's beginning to look as if California's small, fuzzy, outlaw pets will be able to see the sun at long last. Unless, of course, the CDFG gets its way. Oh, and provided the ferrets come out from behind the couch when the treat can—signaling total freedom—is finally shaken.

The CDFG's vendetta against the slinky house pet has been likened to Bill Murray's war against the groundhog in Caddyshack. Now, with SB 1093 moving through the Senate Appropriations Committee for the first time after three previous tries, the CDFG has begun reaching deeper into manic, nonsensical arguments to support their manic, nonsensical position.

"In New Zealand, [ferrets are] eating up their national symbol, their kiwi, and lots of native plant life," Ron Jurek, a CDFG wildlife biologist, told The San Diego Union-Tribune on June 1. Nowhere in the article does Jurek mention that thousands of ferrets were purposely introduced in New Zealand as a form of lagomorphic control. The result? An explosion in the ferret population and scarcely any decline in the number of rabbits. The New Zealand government has admitted that this was pretty much a bad idea.

This weird, irrelevant proclamation is merely the latest in a long line of CDFG misinformation, including the much-derided supposition that ferret legalization would result in packs of feral ferrets roaming the California plains, savaging our cattle and hypnotizing our cats. The CDFG's penchant for hyperbole came to a head, however, when the agency was asked by the Senate to provide a cost analysis for the impending legalization. Responding to the inquiry, CDFG claimed it would cost $207,000 for an environmental-impact study and between $48,000 and $480,000 per year to enforce the legislation. Agency officials could not explain why the cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of setting up a ferret police state.

Nor could CDFG explain why it would need $207,000 to produce a study it already completed in 1996. Five years ago, the CDFG surveyed officials in 48 states where ferrets are legal and concluded that there had never been an ecological problem with ferrets gone wild anywhere in the U.S. The unwelcome report remained buried in the CDFG's offices until uncovered by legalization activist Floyd Carley in 1999 and subsequently publicized by OC Weekly (David Young's "Small, Fuzzy Justice," Sept. 10, 1999). When CDFG officials posited that they wanted to further study the subject, activist Jeanne Carley asked, "Why? Did they get it wrong the first time?"

Such tactics are pretty typical of the CDFG. Usually, they manage to get ferret-legalization bills killed early in committee. This year, with Appropriations chaired by one of the bill's authors, Senator Dede Alpert (D-San Diego), the CDFG requirement for further study was thrown out; the committee further recommended that the "enforcement" budget could be easily handled on the local level by the novel method of issuing "ferret licenses." It is highly unlikely that ferrets will countenance wearing tags, however, as tags tend to be shiny and metal and therefore perfect for hiding beneath beds.

At press time, the bill was headed for the full Senate before moving on to the Assembly, where it has always passed before.

When the bill passed Appropriations, Alpert was hopeful the bill would do well in the full Senate. "Let's hope we never see this again," he said.

 
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