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Why "Pete the Moose" Could Still Be Caught in the Crosshairs 

Local Matters

Bernie Sanders

Published June 16, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.


The legislation was a shock to Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Wayne LaRoche and the state Fish and Wildlife Board. They say neither the legislature nor other members of the Douglas administration sought their input as the law was drafted.

“We were all taken aback,” says Brian Ames, chairman of the state Fish and Wildlife Board, which writes state fish and game laws. “This is completely new territory, and nowhere else have we ever allowed a herd of wild animals to exist basically for personal profit.”

The legislation gives Nelson until August 1 to submit a strategy to thin the native herds, and until October 1 to install new fences. Culling is still required to halt the possible spread of CWD.

“Ironically, although Mr. Nelson didn’t have a legal right to shoot Pete or any other moose on the property, the new law gives him that right. In theory, he could also sell moose-hunting access to anyone who visits his facility,” notes Vesilind. “The elk, moose, and deer on this property aren’t afraid of humans anymore. You may as well shoot a goat at a kid’s petting zoo.”

Most folks concur that it would be a public relations disaster to kill Pete the Moose, or his progeny: As the session wound down, it was revealed that Pete’s “girlfriend” is pregnant. What’s next — “Save Pete Jr.”? Sen. Susan Bartlett, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, defended the deal, which was crafted by attorneys at the Agency of Agriculture and shepherded through the legislature by Sen. Robert Starr (D-Essex/Orleans) and Rep. Duncan Kilmartin (R-Newport).

“We were compelled to make a decision because of the way that Fish and Wildlife was acting,” says Bartlett. “This herd has been a captive herd for nine to 10 years, and Fish and Wildlife’s solution was to go up and shoot all the moose and deer. As you can imagine, that didn’t sit too well with a number of folks.”

LaRoche disagrees. He was not interested in eliminating all the native animals in one swift kill, he says, but rather over a period of years. Nelson, however, would never agree to terms, because the farmer didn’t believe the state had the authority to govern the hunts on his property, says LaRoche. Instead of having to abide by fish and wildlife laws, which have real teeth, Nelson now only needs to run his plans by the Agency of Agriculture.

“I think the legislature was blinded by the ‘Pete the Moose’ story,” says Ames, “when it wasn’t really about Pete the Moose.”

As for Nelson, he’s saying very little these days now that the attention on Pete has subsided. Multiple messages left with farmhands and assistants were not returned. They said Nelson was busy, feeding his elk.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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