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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Whose wildlife is it, anyway?

July 21. 2018 9:28PM

Tension over management of the state's wildlife has been building for more than a decade. It started with a legislative audit of Fish and Game Department operations in 2008 and reached a boiling point in 2016 when the Fish and Game Commission withdrew its plan to reintroduce bobcat hunting and trapping in New Hampshire in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

The fierce debate that preceded adoption of new rules for hunting and trapping last week was yet another battle in the ongoing campaign - with the hunting and trapping community emerging victorious this time in what has become a back and forth tug of war.

Against that backdrop, a new commission created by law to study the future of Fish and Game got down to business with little fanfare, holding its organizational meeting on Monday.

Nashua state Sen. Kevin Avard, one of three senators who sponsored the bill creating the Commission to Study the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Fish and Game Department Operations, was elected chair.

Other members include Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau along with Fish and Game Commission Chair Robert Phillipson of Keene.

The hunting, fishing and trapping community is represented by James Morse, president of the N.H. Wildlife Federation. The N.H. Guides Association, agricultural interests and the N.H. Forest Society all have a seat at the table.

Recreational interests are represented by Rick Van de Poll, owner of Ecosystem Management Consultants of Sandwich, and a well-known environmental and ecological scientist, while the general public is represented by a William Carney of Bow, a member of the New England Outdoors Writers Association since the 1960s.

Together with three state reps, this group is expected to chart a course for the future of Fish and Game, with recommendations to the Legislature by January, 2019.

Just getting to the first commission meeting was a battle in itself.

The legislation creating the commission, SB 48, was introduced when the two-year session got underway in January 2017, with Sens. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, joining Avard as co-sponsors.

It immediately ran into a buzz saw of opposition. After passing the Senate on a voice vote in March 2017, the bill was retained by the House Committee on Fish and Game and Marine Resources.

That committee sat on the bill then sent it to the House floor on Jan. 9, with a "kill the bill" recommendation, known in legislative terms as "inexpedient to legislate."

A tabling motion failed 164-175. The bill finally passed the House on a voice vote and was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu in February.

The fact that opponents of the study tried so hard to bring it down suggests they are concerned about the direction it may take. There is clearly a fear that allowing representation by "passive use" wildlife lovers on the Fish and Game Commission will set up a never-ending battle between two irreconcilable forces.

The Wildlife Federation's Morse (now on the study commission) told senators in their hearing on SB 48 that "the requests for this study commission are from people who do not share the same values on hunting, trapping and fishing" as members of the federation he represents.

Lindsay Hamrick, state director for the Humane Society, says the notion that license holders should control the debate because they pay the bills is out of date. "Hunters and trappers should be at the table, absolutely," she says, "but when you look at the funding of Fish and Game, they are now less than a third."

A department once dedicated exclusively to hunting and fishing activities is now charged with search and rescue, marine fisheries, public boat access, nuisance wildlife control, off-highway recreational vehicles (OHRV), environmental review, non-game and endangered wildlife management, habitat conservation and public outreach.

The largest source of Fish and Game revenue is now from OHRV registrations and transfers (34 percent), followed by federal funds (33 percent), and then licenses and associated fees (20 percent).

"The commission needs to be more open, but unfortunately they have taken the stance that they will oppose any and all effort to change their makeup," says Hamrick.

Whether the Legislature agrees remains to be seen.

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