Was PETA the right choice? | AspenTimes.com

Was PETA the right choice?

Joel Stonington
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” When a Minnesota man pleaded guilty to illegally killing and baiting a bear, the judge ordered him to give $500 to a fringe animal-rights group, a decision that has raised eyebrows.

Craig Miller, 44, now is required to donate the cash to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has a website that calls for societal changes such as “ending fur and leather use, meat and dairy consumption, fishing, hunting, trapping, factory farming, circuses and bull fighting.”

“It wasn’t what I was expecting,” said Miller’s defense attorney, John Van Ness of Woody Creek. “I don’t know where that came from, the PETA business. I know they are opposed to fur coats.”

The conviction came 45 days after Miller baited and killed a bear the day before the beginning of hunting season. He beheaded the bear, took the fur and left the meat in the field, which is a criminal offense.

Miller tried to make the kill legal and get a Colorado Division of Wildlife seal that would have allowed taxidermy work on the pelt, but the division investigated and found evidence of the crimes. He was sentenced to $5,300 in fines, a two-year unsupervised probation, loss of hunting rights for five years and a $500 donation to PETA in lieu of community service. The order to pay PETA was delivered by Chuck Buss, a retired district judge who was filling in for Judge James Boyd, who is on vacation this week.

PETA often gets involved in high-profile animal-rights cases and has become a lightning rod of sorts for animal issues. Most recently, PETA was in the news for giving an eight-hour “developing empathy for animals” seminar to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who is set to be sentenced Dec. 10 for his role in a dog-fighting ring.

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“We’ve had restitution ordered to our organization in the past,” said PETA spokeswoman Daphna Nachminovitch. “I would not say it’s common. It’s a gesture on the part of the judge to say this bear mattered and that a donation should be made in his memory. Five-hundred dollars isn’t going to make up for the suffering this bear endured.”

The money would go into PETA’s general fund, not one specifically focused on bears, though Nachminovitch said the organization does have education efforts that try to help people live better with wild animals.

Miller would not comment on whether he thought PETA would use his money well, though he did say he will “comply with what the judge ordered.” Others have suggested that the donation would be better used by a local organization working on the bear problems in the area.

“Had we been asked, we might have recommended the purchase of bear-proof containers to solve issues on a more localized basis; however, we weren’t asked,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton. “We have a lot of cubs at a private center in Silt. Twelve cubs have been sent there from the northwest region. The cubs that are there are consuming hundreds of pounds of food a day.”

The private center Hampton was talking about is the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation, where funding needs run at roughly $4,400 a month, just for food to rehabilitate animals, according to the organization’s website.

The Schneegas Foundation accepts game meat from hunters to feed various animals and raptors housed at the site. It’s one of many uses that Hampton stated as a possible use for the meat that was wasted by Miller.

“Food banks would accept it,” Hampton said. “We have a meat bank here in Grand Junction that provides organic meat for people who cannot, for medical reasons, eat commercially produced meat. Just because, ‘Oh, gee I don’t like it,’ does not give an individual the right to kill it and leave it in the field. That’s not a moral statement. That’s a legal statement.”

Hampton said that the DOW will now go through the administrative process of filling the judge’s order to ban Miller from hunting for the next five years. Though the ban is now effective in Colorado, it will take some time to go into effect in other states and will only cover 24 states, Hampton said.

Miller, a lifelong hunter who has held over 70 hunting licenses, lives in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., a state that will be included in the ban. However, he lives only 10 minutes from the border with Wisconsin, where he will not be banned from hunting because that state is not yet a part of the pact.

“No comment,” Miller said, when asked whether or not he would be hunting in the next five years, considering the ban did not cover Wisconsin. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”