By Weldon Bosworth
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has completed its 2023-2024 biennial rule making and its rules proposal goes before the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) before it becomes final. JLCAR is the legislative body that has oversight authority for rules proposed and adopted by agencies.
Another biennium has gone by without the Department responding to the public’s comments that were provided during the hearing process, except for minor adjustments in the seasons for game species, i.e. white-tailed deer, turkeys, bear, etc.
For the most part, the NHFG has done a good job managing most of New Hampshire ‘s game species; their populations are healthy and sustainable.
However, the Department’s management of New Hampshire ‘s iconic predators, e.g., fox, fisher, coyote, etc. does not measure up to a modern understanding of their significant value to NH’s ecosystems. Despite numerous comments from the public over the last three biennial processes for addressing the overexploitation of these species, the Department and the Commission have turned a blind eye.
It is bad enough that the Department continues to pander to those that consider all these predators as “varmints,” but the Fish and Game Commission who is responsible for these public trust resources does little to insist upon managing these species using sound science. The Commission condones wildlife killing contests, a seven-month open season on shooting red fox, gray fox, fisher, raccoons, etc. with no duty to report how many are killed, a year-long open season on coyotes, a three-month night hunting season on coyotes and trapping seasons and bag limits that have led to a three-decade decline in the harvest and catch per effort metrics of these species.
While the Commission has several qualified and experienced members, there are several Commissioners who through their actions demonstrate they are motivated more by the pressures of the hunting and trapping community, or by their personal emotional dislike of predators. Commissioner Price is one of the latter and at the last Commission meeting on April 18th, condemned coyotes as “vicious killers”, “without a moral compass” (one minute video here: https://youtu.be/x0-U43vb43k). One other Commissioner (Stohl) joined her in his emotional condemnation of coyotes as “vicious killers.”
Two of the commissioners, or almost 20% of the Commission, are trappers who promote recreational trapping of these valuable predators, even in the face of their declining populations. The five hundred or so trappers in the State of New Hampshire make up only 0.03% of New Hampshire’s population, and their combined total of $15,000 in license fees are a minimal contribution to the Department’s $32 million annual budget. Clearly, they have a disproportionate representation on the Commission as well as influence on the management of furbearers.
Changes in the Game Commission are urgently needed. We need Commissioners with a sound scientific understanding of ecology, and ones who represent all of New Hampshire’s wildlife stakeholders such as the 95% of its citizens who do not happen to hunt or trap.
Weldon Bosworth, Ph.D.