CONWAY, Mass (Reuters) - Pete, a popular, semi-tame moose who lives on a Vermont elk-hunting farm, was spared a death sentence but will need to find a new home under state wildlife regulations signed into law on Tuesday
Under the new law, all animals on the Big Rack Ridge preserve must be hunted and killed within three years except Pete, who has lived on the Irasburg farm since he was found as a calf, mauled by dogs, two years ago.
Controversy erupted when Vermont wildlife officials planned to have Pete killed because the law in 2009 banned keeping wild animals in captivity.
The elk on the preserve were imported and considered legal but Pete, being wild, was not.
Many Vermont residents launched a campaign, setting up web pages and social media sites to help save Pete.
The Wildlife Public Trust Act signed into law on Tuesday by Governor Peter Shumlin was, in part, an effort to save Pete that was included in final state budget negotiations this spring.
The law moves authority over so-called captive hunting to the state Fish and Wildlife Department from private hands.
"I want to thank our Legislature for passing this bill clearly stating that the fish and wildlife of Vermont are held in trust by the state for the benefit of the citizens of Vermont and that these resources shall not be reduced to private ownership," said Shumlin.
One concern about keeping animals on the preserve is the risk they could contract ailments such as chronic wasting disease from other animals or the feed, officials have said.
Pete will be relocated to another facility which has not been publicly identified, they said.
Big Back Ridge is owned by Doug Nelson, whose friend David Lawrence once served as Pete's caretaker and still comes to visit him at the 600 acres of gated woods nearly every day.
Earlier, legislators passed a law, which proved unpopular, that made the animals on the preserve the property of the owner and gave oversight authority to state agriculture officials.
Several conservation groups and hunters opposed that law, saying the public should have access to wildlife on open land for trapping, hunting, fishing, photography and observation.
(Reporting by Zach Howard; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)