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California ferret lovers are persistent

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A letter arrived Wednesday at the governor's office with precisely 42,995 signatures. They were demanding amnesty for their illegal pets, mustela putorius furo, otherwise known as ferrets.

Freedom, however, won't come this year. California will remain, at least for the time being, one of only two states (Hawaii the other) prohibiting the polecats as pets. Strange as this may seem, it probably makes sense. California's process of studying these critters hasn't run its due course. Until then, the persistent ferret lobby must wait.

For the fifth time in a decade, its attempt to convince the Legislature (and then the governor) to legalize ferrets has come up short.

Like its four predecessors, SB 1093 by Sen. Maurice Johannessen, R-Redding, started as an attempt to legalize resident ferrets under certain conditions (such as certifying that they were neutered). For a while, the bill had some sturdy political legs. It sailed out of Senate committees, then the full Senate, and headed to the Assembly. There it ran into a skeptical committee chairman, and whispers that the governor didn't want a ferret amnesty bill ending up on his desk. This is how previous ferret bills died.

This year, though, the ferret issue has stayed alive by using an old political trick: changing the bill to study the problem rather than to actually resolve it.

For ferret lovers, this may prove the political groundwork for victory. SB 1093 would fund a quarter-million-dollar environmental analysis. It may answer once and for all the central question of the debate: Would legalizing ferrets as pets lead to wild ferret populations hungering to make meals of endangered birds? If the report vindicates the ferrets, the battle is all but over. The California Fish and Game Commission, which has rejected legalizing ferrets absent more proof that they wouldn't harm wildlife, would likely change its mind.

Yet if the study ends up fudging what to do, the commission may stand firm, leaving the ferret lobby to try to circumvent the commission with another amnesty bill. Be assured, the ferret lovers won't rest until they can win the day for their weasels.

Scripps-McClatchy Western News Service