CONCORD — New regulations on hunting and trapping were approved by lawmakers on Thursday, to the delight of hunters and trappers and the chagrin of animal rights groups that had pushed for changes.
Both sides orchestrated a large turnout that filled two meeting rooms and spilled into the hallway of the Legislative Office Building, as the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) convened for a second time to consider changes to existing rules approved by the 11-member Fish and Game Commission.
The committee took no testimony and unanimously approved the new rules on a voice vote. Representatives and senators on the committee objected to the rules a month ago on the basis that the Fish and Game Commission did not adequately take into consideration public comment, much of it against the proposal.
A coalition of animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of New Hampshire, tried to take advantage of the biennial rules change to constrain the hunting and trapping of foxes and coyotes, and block an effort to expand the live trapping of snowshoe hare used to train hunting dogs.
They failed on all three counts and are now expected to take their fight to the full Legislature.
The wildlife management professionals at Fish and Game had recommended closure of the coyote season for a 10-week period in late spring and early summer, when coyotes are raising their young.
“The reasons the biologists supported it is that all other fur-bearing species get a respite from hunting and trapping pressures when raising their young, so there is an inconsistent wildlife management policy when it comes to coyotes,” said Lindsay Hamrick, state director for the Humane Society. “The commission not only rejected that proposal, but did not even include it in the proposed rule.”
In the first pass of the proposed rule, the commission included a three-bag limit on the hunting and trapping of foxes, as recommended by the agency staff, but reversed itself on July 2 in a second vote after another round of public hearings.
Animal rights groups were also disappointed about the outcome of the snowshoe hare debate, as they had opposed expanding the live trapping to other parts of the state, and increasing the number of licenses. Their goal is to have the practice eliminated, according to Hamrick.
“We have concerns that there is a legal practice of capturing wild animals and breeding them,” said Hamrick. “Commissioner (Eric) Stohl spoke to that and we agree that this is not how wildlife should be utilized.”
Diane Richardson of Springfield, a licensed tracking dog handler, hunter and former trapper, wrote in her testimony to JLCAR that the concerns over the fox and coyote populations are overstated.
Only a small percentage of the state’s 59,000 hunting license holders target predators like the fox or coyote, according to Richardson, and a small percentage of the state’s 586 licensed trappers have the skills needed to trap canines, especially foxes.
“Canine trapping is the master level of trapping,” according to Richardson. “Not many have the skills needed to consistently trap them. Because of how trapping in New Hampshire works, only about 5 percent of the fox population will ever come near a trap.”
On the snowshoe hare, Richardson points out that the beagle clubs feed and shelter the hares and do not want their dogs to catch them “let alone have the hares die for any reason.”
“I believe the license holders of New Hampshire deserve and expect the Fish and Game Department to work for them, not the anti-hunting, anti-animal use crowd,” she wrote.
Paul DeBow, president of the N.H. Trappers Association, says his group didn’t get everything it wanted, since the new rules also include a limit of two fishers per season, down from the current standard of five statewide.
“But we’re happy that the commission, having heard the trappers quite a bit, decided to side with us and go back to the previous year’s fox season,” he said.
Having failed before the Fish and Game Commission and the legislative rules committee, Hamrick said the animal rights groups are now setting their sights on the state Legislature. “The commission majority continues to prove time and time again that they are only listening to a very small subset of people, and not the average taxpayer or their own staff biologists,” said Hamrick.
According to JLCAR staff attorney Christina R. Muñiz, the lawmakers received “substantial written testimony” before their first vote on June 15 and another batch before Thursday’s vote.
“The first meeting received over 80 pages of testimony, mostly in opposition to the rule, and the second meeting received over 150 pages of testimony, both in opposition and in support of the rule,” according to Muñiz.