Senate Bill 48 & House 467
As if anti-trapping house bills weren’t enough for 2017, a new legislative bill has been introduced into the New Hampshire Senate. Senate Bill 48 seeks to start the process of making drastic changes to our Fish and Game Department, and has received immense praise from animal rights groups and several infamous special-interest groups including The Humane Society of The United States.
Senate Bill 48 seeks to put a legislative study committee together, with the desire to further entertain the idea of making drastic (and in my opinion, unnecessary) changes to the NH Fish and Game Commission; which currently assists in overseeing rules and regulations on hunting, fishing, and trapping.
To add a layer of confusion to the bill’s introduction, the legislative sponsors of SB48 are well established and well respected members of the senate; including the primary sponsor Jeb Bradley. I fear there may be unintended consequences with regard to the Fish and Game Department's wildlife management protocols if we begin to travel down the bumpy road Senate Bill 48 is heading; in particular, establishing the F&G Commission as "advisory only". With deep and sincere respect to the sponsors of SB48, the introduction of this bill is both in poor timing and poor taste with regard to Nationally recognized wildlife management standards.
What’s all the fuss about?
To understand why there is so much concern over SB48, you must first understand how the NH Fish and Game Commission currently operates. Essentially, the Commission is put in place to set general policies for the department, including the areas of conservation and management of wildlife populations. The department’s Executive Director currently also serves as the chief administrator of the commission, and is also given the authority to adopt and enforce rules for control, management, restoration, conservation, and regulation of the wildlife resources of the state. You can read the full language of duties of the Commission and Director by clicking here. One commissioner is selected from each of the state’s counties. One of the required stipulations for being eligible for a seat on the commission is to be an active outdoorsman holding a resident fishing, hunting, or trapping license in at least 5 of the 10 years prior to appointment.
I am a firm believer that these stipulations were put in place by the creators of NH TITLE XVIII Chapter 206 to ensure that wildlife and game species were managed in a proactive and sensible manner. I personally believe they also established these requirements to ensure that NH citizens would always have a natural-born right to live off the land and harvest our natural resources in a regulated and responsible form.
With all of this in mind, it isn’t very hard to imagine why anti-hunting groups would be foaming at the mouth to see these requirements dissolved and removed from the management playbook. This is exactly what SB48 intends to set in motion – the gutting of our Fish and Game Department’s decision making, while also castrating the state’s hunters, anglers, and trappers.
Strategic planning and cherry-picked science.
It’s quite ingenious when you really think about it; special interest groups have circled the wagons, tested the fence for weaknesses, and come up with the perfect formula to ensure it’s “their way, or no way”. Step one – start up the cause and establish “coalitions”, “leagues” and “society” groups to solicit donations and funding. Step two – cherry-pick scientific data and regurgitate it in a way that suits a biased narrative, omitting any findings that don’t fit the desired mold. Step three – convince a small, yet important chunk of the public to rebel against the governing bodies in charge of wildlife management policies. Step four – convince the politicians and legislators that this is for the “greater-good” and present the illusion that the public is on their side. Step five – go for the gonads and discredit the individuals in charge of said management practices; thus ensuring that your views are force-fed down the throats of the citizens.
One of the driving forces behind this bill, a “Wildlife Coalition” group, has issued public statements stating they are not an anti-hunting organization. However their actions and wording in their own mission statement speaks volumes, and hints at their motives to silence the modern outdoorsman’s voice in regard to wildlife conservation. This “Coalition” states they have formed with the intent to “save” the Fish and Game Department, with a “for your own good” mentality that comes off more condescending than comforting to the average outdoorsman or outdoorswoman.
Based on their own admissions and the individuals they are affiliated with, it’s painfully clear this “coalition” seeks to drive a wedge between activities like hunting, trapping and fishing, and the general idea of conservation. This is a deceitful and repulsive attempt to suggest that hunting and fishing activities have no merit in today’s conservation models – when in reality hunting, trapping and fishing activities are the exact definition of the Teddy Roosevelt-era mindset of conservation values. Living off the land through rifle, steel trap, or fishing line are the kind of activities that make conservation so successful, as these purveyors of the land (in the form of hunting, fishing, and trapping) have the most to lose through unregulated harvests.
The driving forces behind SB48 are the same groups that chant and tout unconfirmed studies suggesting wild predators and nature can “sort itself out” with no human management. These insane ideas may hold water if human populations were not saturating the landscape; but with mankind growing bigger and bigger every day it is up to us to properly study our wildlife populations to reduce crashes in specific species demographics. I have yet to find any unbiased research that backs the claims that the North American Model of Conservation is somehow antiquated. What I have found, however, is data that has been skewed and twisted to fit a specific narrative or end goal for these extremist groups; funding and money usually lie at the end of these goals, sadly.
Public Opinion vs Public Knowledge.
Some have argued that the current Commission is somehow “reckless” and does not take public outcry into account on decision making. I would call on anyone to point out one instance where the current makeup of our Fish and Game Commission has attributed to the deficit of wildlife populations. At no point in my lifetime has any decision made by the Commission negatively impacted NH’s wildlife populations as a whole. On the contrary, game species populations have flourished. When bobcat populations began to swell unregulated last year, the Commission implemented science-backed management procedures to achieve more data collection; a decision that the newly formed “Wildlife Coalition” cites as the driving force behind their crusade to eviscerate the Department. Newsflash for this “coalition” – bobcats taking naps under suburban birdfeeders is not a characteristic of healthy bobcat behavior, and signals a swell in carrying capacity. It doesn’t take a biology degree to understand a need for management on the natural landscape, which is yet another reason why folks with a hunting background have a hand in decision making. Despite the common-sense logic behind this decision, a small percentage of the public made a lot of noise – thus forcing the Department to withdraw its bobcat season proposal. Not all was lost, as I now charge a high premium as a wildlife control operator to taxi caged nuisance bobcats from one end of the state to the other.
More than a “boys club”.
The Fish and Game Commission is not just a “boys club” pandering to the hook and bullet crowd, as the supporters of SB48 would have you believe. There are plenty of instances where the state’s sportsmen and the Commission haven’t seen eye-to-eye. Additionally, members of the current Commission are not solely hunting-oriented, as they belong to many other facets of conservation including Forestry, land management, and an array of non-hunting oriented conservation organizations. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t feel having a license and experience in the activities you are overseeing is a negative.
Most importantly, the Commission serves as a “checks and balances” system to ensure that wrongful public perception and non-scientific based rhetoric doesn’t clout the wildlife management process. Without a Commission, I fear modern science-based management decisions, which include hunting, fishing and trapping harvest would be swallowed up in the circus sideshow that is modern public opinion. As an avid outdoorsman, I have faced my fair share of harassment and unwarranted attacks from other members of the public who are clearly misinformed and/or extremely narrow-minded about how hunting and trapping practices are carried out on today’s landscape. Many of these attacks have come to me in the midst of doing immense good for conservation as a whole. More to the point, a quick jaunt around the comment section of the Fish and Game Department’s social media pages and one can get a pretty accurate example of why a checks and balances system for hunting activities is needed to ensure proper, non-biased wildlife population management is implemented. Do you really want someone who finds hunting to be a vile activity in charge of determining how many turkeys should be harvested next season to ensure healthy population demographics?
When referring to the current Commission make up, some folks have questioned whether the fox should be in charge of guarding the hen house. Absolutely, provided that fox understands that he can’t eat the whole coop at once, and must conserve the flock for himself and all his woodland chicken-eating neighbors for generations to come. On the contrary, if the chicken was in charge of guarding the flock, something tells me we would have way more chickens than there would be feed to go around.
One thing I didn’t hear at the public hearing of SB48 was the fact that Commission decisions are currently made based on advisement of state biologists and the most up to date, unbiased management guidelines. This includes up-to-date science as well as examples from the nation’s other state game agencies, USFWS and the USDA among countless other resources. It should also be noted that the Commission’s meetings are currently public, and encourage public input. Supporters of SB48 suggest that this is not good enough, and “non-consumptive” members of the public must have the overall say since hunting participation has dropped in recent years.
While “wildlife watching” and other non-consumptive outdoor activities have surpassed hunting and fishing activities among NH’s demographic, I will go out on a limb with concrete certainty that these “wildlife watching” activities would cease to be enjoyable without the activities and funds from sportsmen playing a part in keeping our wildlife abundant, healthy, and diverse. The public is fully permitted to enjoy “wildlife watching”, and is fully permitted to give input during the Fish and Game Department’s hearings on rule making or changes. So this begs the age old question – if it isn’t broke, why are we throwing it in the dustbin?
A Numbers Game.
Some of the supporters behind the upbringing of SB48 suggest that budget shortfalls within the Fish and Game Department are reason enough to bring about these changes. There is no doubt the Department is facing budget shortfalls, however it should be pointed out these budget issues have very little to do with how the Commission manages fish and game laws. Perhaps if our Fish and Game Department spent more time managing wildlife and habitat instead of being tasked with dragging lost tourists off mountaintops, they would have fewer budget issues.
Instead of throwing the red herring of budgets into the debate, it would serve the powers that be to issue a committee to study moving search and rescue operations out of our game management department, freeing sportsmen’s dollars for what they were intended for. Members of some animal rights organizations have also contested that public general funds have been used to help keep the Fish and Game department afloat, and therefore entitles them to a seat at the Commission’s table. It should be noted that $600,000 in General Fund money was sent to the Fish and Game department a few years ago to help fund search and rescue and to prevent staff lay offs. What hasn’t been mentioned was the $500,000 taken from the department a year earlier to balance the governor’s budget – money that could have been federally matched (through taxes on hunting and fishing equipment) for $2,000,000 for public access use. If you really want to talk numbers, New Hampshire's Fish and Game license buyer (the sportsmen) pays almost $5,400,000 per year for the Fish and Game Department’s share of state required retirement and health benefits costs. New license fees in 2016 have brought roughly $1,001,000.00 into the Department for additional funding. I’m having a hard time finding how much the animal rights and special interest groups have contributed.
Lack of foresight.
Whether to address budget shortfalls or have a non-wildlife decision maker thrown into the mix of the Department, eviscerating NH’s Fish and Game Commission is not the answer to dealing with these hypothetical concerns. I am a firm believer that this bill is the first step toward changing New Hampshire’s Fish and Game makeup for the worst. By overthrowing the current standards put in place (and I assure you, this is in fact the first step to overthrowing), tried and true methods of wildlife management will suffer – and outdoorspeople aside, our state’s wildlife will be the group who ultimately pays the price of this endeavor.
While no harm ever came of studies and taking a “second look” at a subject, Senate Bill 48 and the outside driving forces behind it leave all too much to be implied, and opens a Pandora’s box of unintended adverse effects. In my opinion, and the opinion of the majority of concerned citizens, this bill presents the beginning of an unprovoked attack on our outdoor rights, and our Fish and Game Department’s currently successful tasks of properly and efficiently managing NH’s game species.
A wave of anti-hunting legislation in 2017.
While Senate bill 48 seeks to establish a committee to further study the possibility of making these changes to the Commission, a bill in the house, titled House Bill 467 seeks to make some of these changes right now. My sources indicate that HB467 has made it's way through the House Fish and Game Committee, and has been voted "inexpedient to legislate". According to my sources, our odds are good that this bill will be killed, but we should continue to monitor it's progress. You can read the text of both bills by clicking on them here: SB48 and HB467. Several other restrictive bills made their way through the Legislative Service Request phase this year, including a bill to restrict beaver trapping. These bills have since been withdrawn or killed.
What the future could look like.
This isn’t a debate about a round of golf. While the term “sportsmen” would imply hunting and trapping on the modern landscape is strictly for leisure, there’s a magnitude of different facets that are plugged into modern outdoor sporting activities. Biology, data collection, population monitoring; the list goes on and on. Hunting and trapping ensures there is a biological “health to the herd” and early detection for any potentially disastrous effects to our wildlife – the eyes and ears of conservation. Imagine a time in New Hampshire’s future where very important game management decisions are being cast by individuals who have never casted a line, pulled a bow string, or laid steel traps in the soil. The health of today’s wildlife species are a direct result of regulated hunting and trapping activities from the past – are we willing to throw that all away for political correctness? Additionally, should our fish and game policy makers be punished for holding a hunting, fishing or trapping license?
It would be in your best interest to research the past year’s current events – both Nationwide, and here in The Granite State. I’m talking about castrating bucks to put an end to deer hunting, feeding beavers birth control to eradicate trapping, and sending death threats to your neighbor because he shot a lion to ensure the safety of an African village. I can see the future playing out as if I’m some kind of sideshow fortuneteller with a murky crystal ball; and NH Senate Bill 48 has all the right language to set the stage for total destruction of our state’s wildlife populations and game management procedures.
I implore anyone reading this article to contact your local House and Senate representatives and let them know you oppose Senate Bill 48. Help spread the word to your outdoor and conservation-minded friends and family and have them do the same. Utilize some of the information I have made available in this article, and make as much noise as you possibly can regarding the concerning implications of this legislation. Contact your reps and continue to contact them throughout the life of this bill in the House and Senate. Most importantly, remind your House and Senate members that sportsmen and sportswomen vote too.