NASHUA REP. David Campbell’s act of plowing through a group of ducks with his car on the Monday before Christmas is creating quite a flap. It should. It is important, however, for people to get upset for the right reasons — not merely for the purpose of scoring political points.
According to James Murphy, a retired Marine officer and eyewitness, Campbell ran his BMW into a flock of ducks being fed by guests at Nashua’s Crowne Plaza hotel without ever slowing. As described by Campbell himself, “Some people were feeding ducks on the driveway in front of the Crowne Plaza at 10 o’clock at night… and they didn’t move, and I hit some ducks.”
Campbell later issued a formal apology, stressing that it was an accident and “deeply affected him then and now.” One must ask, though, how someone so “deeply affected” left the scene with no attempt to render aid to the animals that he struck. More curious is how Campbell failed to avoid stationary wildlife while purportedly traveling at a speed of 15 mph on the hotel’s driveway.
The act of running down wildlife continues to be a popular way for some malcontents to get their kicks. On December 4, the Union Leader reported incidents of cars leaving the road in Raymond and Kingston to run down flocks of turkeys. Fish and Game Conservation Officer Chris McKee told the Union Leader, “Unfortunately, it’s more common than we’d like to see.” Last December, 21-year-old Ian Gamble of Francestown made headlines by running down turkeys with his Honda Prelude while extending an obscene gesture to a shocked local who videotaped the incident.
One can’t help but worry about the mental state of an individual who would do such a thing. And we should. Meanwhile, the person who simply refuses to slow down for wildlife in his path because it “should have moved” is only slightly less disturbing.
Animal abuse laws encourage empathy — something we should be increasingly desirous of as bullying and violent acts among America’s youth gain more attention. In the case of wildlife protection, the laws remind citizens that wildlife is a public trust resource — not a resource to be allocated only to or by a privileged few.
To these ends, if the facts are as stated by the eyewitness, Rep. Campbell could — and should — be prosecuted for illegal taking of game birds under NH RSA 209:6. The statute requires that any person taking or killing ducks shall have a valid hunting license and federal duck stamp. Additionally, the law requires that the killing or taking of ducks be in accordance with regulations established under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act of 1934 (Duck Stamp Act). These regulations are incorporated into state law by reference, so their enforcement need not be a federal case (although it could be — with fines as much as $15,000).
The state penalty for violating any provision of RSA Chapter 209 is a fine of up to $1,000. Taking the ducks out of season, without a valid hunting license, without a valid federal duck stamp would constitute three separate violations. Additionally, the regulations implementing the MBTA prohibit certain methods of hunting (e.g. use of a motor vehicle) and wanton waste of migratory game birds (killing or crippling a bird without making a reasonable attempt to retrieve it and keep it or take it to a rehabilitator for care).
If these were domestic ducks, run over on private property, Rep. Campbell would be liable to the property owner. The fact that these were wild (i.e., public trust) ducks should not lessen his obligations. In fact, as a public official, it ought to make them greater and warrant prosecution to remind him and fellow citizens of their duty to others.
Sheridan Brown is a Grantham attorney focused on bird and wildlife conservation issues. He may be reached at via www.stbrownlaw.com.