Court takes aim & blasts pigeon shoots

Posted: September 25, 2012

ANIMAL-RIGHTS activists and hunters have long disagreed about whether live pigeon shoots are barbaric torture or recreational fun. Last week, a federal judge in Philadelphia declared them messy, ordering a local organizer of pigeon shoots to apply to state environmental authorities for a "national pollutant discharge elimination system" permit.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network claimed the ruling as a victory. Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum, who keeps an environmental eye on 330 miles of the Delaware River and its 13,539 square miles of watershed, sued the Philadelphia Gun Club in March, arguing that the club violates the Clean Water Act by grossly polluting the river with large quantities of birdshot, casings and dead and dying pigeons during its shoots.

Club attorney Sean M. Corr disputed the pollution claims, saying that the Bensalem-based, riverside club made efforts to address van Rossum's concerns even before the lawsuit was filed.

"The gun club not only voluntarily uses nontoxic shot [required only for waterfowl], but also has erected a big Kevlar-based screen that catches the vast majority of it," Corr said. "There's no question that we're going beyond what's required."

Van Rossum couldn't quantify the club's pollution, calling the amount "irrelevant" but indisputably sizable, given that the club has been sponsoring such shoots for more than 100 years. She called their birdshot-catching screen "ineffectual." She further charged that the shoots prevent boaters, wildlife-watchers and other recreational users from enjoying the river safely.

"I have sat in a kayak in the water outside the gun club when a shoot has been going on, and gunshots rained down all around me," she said. "It's a very significant pollution hazard, a very significant safety hazard and a very big violation of law. They are polluting the river."

The U.S. District Court judge also ordered the club to pay the network $15,000, which Corr said the club offered as "a nuisance settlement" to avert further legal costs. Under the judgment, the club did not admit any violation of the Clean Water Act.

Corr warned that the decision could have big repercussions for hunters everywhere. The club hosts just 12 days of pigeon shoots on weekends from late fall to early spring. In contrast, hunters statewide have months to shoot other birds (seasons depend on what kind of bird).

"By the plaintiff's logic, every duck blind in the United States requires one of these permits, which illustrates their real purpose - to stop hunting," Corr said.

For years, the club's hunts have inspired the ire of animal-rights protesters. Van Rossum, though, insisted that environmental concern spurred her to sue.

Corr remains unsure what the club will have to do to comply with the required permit, which typically applies to businesses or buildings that discharge pollution into waterways through pipes and man-made ditches.

Deborah Fries, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, said that her office would review the club's permit application, which is due by year's end.

"We were not a party to the lawsuit and have not seen the settlement agreement, so we really cannot comment at this time," Fries said.

Contact Dana DiFilippo at or 215-854-5934. Follow her on Twitter @DanaDiFilippo. Read her blog at

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