Sometimes, as you sit dumbfounded at the latest lunacy from the federal government, the horrifying thought crosses your mind: "Wait a minute. We let these people make our laws. We let these people control our atomic weapons. Are we crazy?"

At least that's how we felt when we heard about the case of the slaughtered ducks . . . and the slaughtered deer, otters, minks, seals, sea lions and cormorants.The case begins with the 11 million-gallon oil spill from the Exxon Valdez last year. Both the federal government and the state of Alaska have sued Exxon, but the precise extent of the environmental damage caused by the spill has been difficult to ascertain.

So, according to published reports, the Justice Department asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to undertake a little study. With $600,000 of taxpayer money, it hired an "ecological consulting firm" to find 219 birds - some of them in wildlife refuges - and shoot them. The birds were then dunked in oil and set in the harbor. The state of Alaska performed the same "experiment" on mammals.

Sadism? Probably not. Only 36,000 dead birds were recovered after the spill; with their experiment the bureaucrats hope to show that many more could have sunk to the harbor floor or been washed out to sea.

Here's a textbook example of government logic. Exxon is charged with destroying wildlife and defacing the harbor, so the government decided to . . . destroy wildlife and deface the harbor. If government workers do it, with the uncommon wisdom conferred upon them by their status, it's OK. Private citizens aren't so lucky.

The Washington Legal Foundation, a Washington think tank, cites the example of a Springfield, Ill., man who was ordered by local officials to destroy unruly pigeons nesting in trees on his property. The poison he set out was inadvertently eaten by two grackles and a mourning dove, who died. The U.S. attorney prosecuted him under the Migratory Bird Treaty. He was found guilty, fined and given a suspended sentence.

Too bad. Had he known better, he could have said he was from the Fish and Wildlife Service and that it was just his way of helping the birds.