Posted at: 02/15/2013 9:52 PM
Updated at: 02/16/2013 11:36 PM
By: Joangel Concepcion
There was controversy on Saturday as animal lovers went head to head with hunters over a popular event in Holley involving hundreds of squirrels.
The event is sponsored by the Holley Fire Department and the money raised goes to benefit firefighters.
What animal right's activists are protesting is the killing of hundreds of squirrels and the issue of children as young as 12 using guns in the event.
It was a controversial few weeks leading up to the 7th annual "Squirrel Slam" in Holley and on Saturday hunters and animal lovers faced off.
Last year the Fire Department only had 250 hunters participate in the event and they only had two police officers handling the crowd.
This year more than 1,000 hunters signed up and up to 30 police officers, plus Monroe County Sheriff's Deputies were on hand, with the SWAT team ready to handle any incidents.
It was something this small village has never seen before, an event locals never thought they would ever have to defend.
Protesters from all over the state are calling the Squirrel Slam cruel and violent.
They also came to Holley to address another big issue, young children and guns.
“Indoctrinating them into a culture of violence. A culture of violence that starts with a monstrous killing contest like the Squirrel Slam,” said Friends of Animals State Director Edita Birnkrant.
“I just don't think the Holley Fire Department is sending a good message out being with what they do generally and then saying 'we're going to have a Squirrel Slam today.' I think that's a very mixed message to send to young people. I just don't understand that,” said protestor Christopher Durham.
The passion wasn't just felt in Holley on Saturday. Police say they have received several calls within the last few weeks from people throughout the nation outraged over the event.
Some calls have even turned serious.
“We have even had death threats towards our mayor, elected officials, fire and police personnel,” said Holley Police Chief William Murphy.
It wasn't just law enforcement receiving threats. Hunters have also been targets.
“My uncle got a call from this girl saying she was going to burn his house down,” said Clarence Moyer.
Police say they are taking all threats very seriously. They received several threatening emails and at least three phone calls. Chief Murphy says the threats are now in the hands of the FBI.
News10NBC asked hunters at the event if they understood why the protestors are so upset.
“People kill deer out of season and everything. It's a squirrel. It's not like it's a bald eagle or anything that's endangered. Squirrels are all around,” said Moyer.
Many hunters say the protests have taken away from a successful event, one that has turned into a tradition for many hunters in Holley.
“Just to come out and show support to the local fire department and have a good time. It's a bonding experience. My daughter is getting into it. It's just great to go out and I don't understand why they have to protest something so silly. I can't figure out why they can't find something better to protest about,” said Ryan Moore.
“We're not going to stop. We're going to keep killing the squirrels,” he continued.
Protesters started an Indiegogo account to raise money for the Holley Fire Department in place of the money they would have made in the Squirrel Slam.
People from all over the nation made several donations ranging from $1 to $300. In total they raised almost $5,000.
The department still went ahead with the Squirrel Slam, which added a lot of fuel to the fire on Saturday.
That money will now go to wildlife rehabbers throughout the New York State.