Hunting, trapping rules changes on hold; live hares to train dogs can continueBy DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader June 16. 2018 12:08PM
CONCORD — Lawmakers have sent the Fish and Game Commission back to the drawing board, objecting to 72 pages of proposed rules for wildlife hunting and trapping, amid controversy over provisions regarding foxes, coyotes and snowshoe hare.
The underlying tension between the state’s hunter-trapper community and animal rights groups was palpable in the hearing room, as representatives from both sides turned out to testify before a joint House-Senate committee that must approve the rules issued by state agencies and departments.
They all left disappointed, as the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) took no public testimony.
After hearing from Fish and Game officials, the committee voted unanimously to object to the entire package of rules governing everything from what kind of arrows can be used in bow hunting to how many deer permits will be issued in each wildlife management area.
Friday’s decision means the existing rules, which are reviewed every other year, remain in effect, with no changes in the requirements for fox hunting, coyote hunting or hare hounding, in which live-caught snowshoe hare are used to training hunting dogs.
House and Senate lawmakers on the 10-member committee did not take issue with any of the rule changes, but agreed that Fish and Game commissioners were not responsive to public testimony in some of the proposed rules — the fox, coyote and snowshoe hare rules in particular.
Delay called problematic
The committee’s objection requires the Fish and Game Commission to reconsider its proposed changes to the rules and demonstrate in a later presentation to JLCAR that public testimony was adequately considered and factored into the final proposal.
Fish and Game representatives offered to remove the snowshoe hare rule change from the proposal, but Rep. Carol McGuire, vice chairman, said the problem went beyond that one issue.
“There were some very interesting comments on the fur-bearing take that seem not to have been considered in the rule as well,” she said.
Mark Ellingwood, chief of the Wildlife Division at Fish and Game, said the delay would complicate the work of the agency.
“This rule package includes bear, moose, turkey, small game … a host of issues outside the concerns expressed regarding fur-bearing and snowshoe hare issues,” he said. “We are in the process of putting together our hunting digests for next fall. If we don’t move ahead with these recommendations for deer, bear and moose, that is certainly problematic from a management perspective.”
Ellingwood said the commission did take public input into consideration, especially in recommending a limit of three foxes per hunter each season.
“In response to the concerns raised by the letters you’ve received, we have for the first time in the history of the program established a three-fox bag limit,” he said. “We did respond to those concerns. The trappers here today opposed that step, which puts us between two competing interests.”
Paul Sanderson, legal coordinator for Fish and Game, said his office would prepare all the comments and bring them back for reconsideration by the commission, which doesn’t meet again until August.
‘Rebuffed’ on coyotes
Lindsay Hamrick, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, says her group proposed suspension of the year-round open season on coyotes, but was rebuffed by the commission.
“In January the commission refused to allow comment on whether the coyote season should be closed for a three-and-a-half month period when the coyotes are raising their young,” she said. “We have concerns that coyotes are being taken and pups are left to die in dens. Fish and Game biologists agreed with that conclusion and promoted that as part of the rules, but the commission would not allow even a discussion about that.”
“We asked the commissioners if they had read the 125 comments, and they said they had not,” Hamrick added. “From our perspective the commission continues to not listen to anyone who does not have a hunting, fishing or trapping license, and that has been a longstanding concern of ours. It was a concern we raised in the bobcat campaign as well.”
James Morse, president of the N.H. Wildlife Federation, said his group supported the rules as presented by Fish and Game, including the expansion of the snowshoe hare live capture program.
“Certain groups are trying to do an end-run around the rules process, and to appease them there will be another public hearing,” he said. “We’ll bring in our groups and the commission will hear the voice of the sportsmen.”
That public hearing has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on June 20 at Fish and Game headquarters in Concord.