THE SEASON FOR trapping fishers opened Dec. 1 and continues until the end of the month. Hunters can shoot fishers from Dec. 1 through the end of January.

Fishers have never had it easy in New Hampshire. The value of their fur has driven them to scarcity on several occasions. According to Fish and Game trapping records, the season for fishers was closed from the early 1930s to the early 60’s. As their population rebounded, the season was opened in the early 60’s and remained open until 1978 when it again was closed for two years.

Since 1980 until the late 90’s the “take” of fishers ranged from 300 to 1,100 per year. Over the last two decades, however, there has been a steady decline in the number of fishers trapped. In fact, the number of fishers trapped has declined from about 1,200 in 1997 to only 44 fishers in 2017, a decrease of 96%.

On a Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) basis the fisher population has declined 78%. CPUE is the number of fishers trapped in 100 trap nights and is a measure Fish and Game uses to infer changes in the fisher population.

Will New Hampshire fishers soon join other fur-bearing predators who have been hunted to extinction (mountain lion and Eastern wolf) or trapped to such scarcity that they no longer have an open season (lynx, marten and bobcat)? Probably! And the red and gray fox, whose populations have decreased more than 60% in the last two decades according to Fish and Game trapping records, may soon join those species in their scarcity.

Who is responsible? New Hampshire trappers, the Fish and Game Commission, and the Fish and Game Department are all complicit. The trappers, who insist on carrying on a “tradition” even if the consequences are essentially eliminating a valuable component of New Hampshire’s ecosystem, the commission, which chooses pleasing its trapper constituency over science and its public trust responsibility, the Fish and Game Department which, strapped for cash, apparently opts for the $20,000 or so it receives annually from the 600 trapping license sales rather than insisting upon more conservative management of these wildlife populations.

Lastly, New Hampshire residents, who willfully ignore the plunder of their public trust resources, bear responsibility.

What will happen to ecosystem integrity and biodiversity when the vast majority of fur-bearing predators are removed from the landscape? Science has long had the answer to this question. Unfortunately, it appears no one in New Hampshire is listening.

Weldon Bosworth of Gilford is a Ph.D. ecologist and retired environmental consultant with experience evaluating potential impacts to populations and communities of biological organisms throughout the U.S. and Canada.