I sat in complete embarrassment at yesterday’s JLCAR public hearing. Two sides debating about the bobcat hunting/trapping season were instructed to speak their piece on issues or concerns with the written rules of the season. Forty minutes earlier, the head chairperson of the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules had strictly instructed the audience to only speak on the rules, since they are not a policy enforcement committee, but rather a “checks and balances” committee in place to ensure the Fish and Game Department didn’t break any rules when proposing their bobcat season. I was embarrassed; not for my group of trappers, hunters and biologists in favor of the season’s rules, but for the "other side" against the season. One gentleman emotionally stammered about in front of the public microphone and raged on about how "horrible" trapping and hunting was for well over 15 minutes, the chairperson’s “gavel banging” and half-hearted protest having no effect on his theatrics. He pulled a foothold trap out of a backpack and waived it around as if it was supposed to have shock value; it appeared to be a standard trap used by trappers and biologists for holding furbearers. This emotional banter went on for over an hour, from different people; adding no weight to the issue at hand. One by one the testimony of useless chatter continued as the JLCAR members repeatedly tried to speak over the opponents of the bobcat season proposal. Instead of standing true to their instructions, the committee allowed this “testimony” to continue, which resulted in only 3 supporters of the season to be heard before the committee closed the rest of testimony, and voted to oppose the season proposal. The side-show of protest forced those with any real weight to the discussion to be completely shut out as time quickly ran out.
The committee cited references from the Humane Society of the US as part of their decision to oppose the season. The threat of a lawsuit from the possibility of catching a federally protected Lynx in a trap if a bobcat season is opened seemed proved to garner attention. As a result, JLCAR has halted the bobcat season proposal, which they have also sent to the House and Senate Fish and Game committees for review (rather than being sent back to the Department Commission to have the rules reworked, which is usually commonplace). My recollection of the announcement by JLCAR is a little fuzzy, because all I could hear was the drone of Calliope circus music playing in my head.
There is a mountain of issues and discrepancies with the JLCAR’s decision. For one, the concern for catching Lynx shouldn’t have been a basis for their opposition. The same traps used for bobcats are currently being used for coyotes, and have been for centuries. NH Fish and Game Director Glenn Normandeau testified before the ruling that two Lynx have been recorded as killed in New Hampshire: one by a car in the mid-1990’s, and one shot in the 1980’s in a chicken coop. There is no record of Lynx being killed or injured in New Hampshire in any trap. The Department has established Lynx Protection Zones for trapping seasons as a precaution despite these facts. Apparently the JLCAR Committee finds animal activist commentary more compelling than our own state furbearer biologist, who the Committee refused to speak to about these concerns during the hearing. It is clear this was a case of politicians doing exactly what politicians do; catering to noisemakers rather than science, concerned about their next voting cycle rather than the policies at hand. This is why New Hampshire has a Fish and Game Commission in place to make rules rather than a referendum or public vote, because the rational thinkers and real science continues to get lost in theatrics and “slight of hand” banter. The Fish and Game Commission had studies from Cornell, Maine, New Hampshire and dozens of other referenced studies by furbearer biologists that agree trapping is not only a management technique but justified by an expanding bobcat population. The general public did not hear any of this information throughout the debate. As a result, we are now in a position of deciding by an opinion poll rather than real, unbiased information.
I hope yesterday’s circus act is a wake-up call for many local hunters and trappers who feel they are “untouchable”. This committee has set a precedent that emotional theatrics will trump science and sound management. I think New Hampshire as a free state for those who wish to live off the land as they so choose died a bit yesterday, and in its place, a state ruled by theatrics and heavy funding took its place. Facts are being manipulated (or completely swept under the carpet) while some against us bend the ears of legislators with rhetoric and half-truths. From this day forward, I encourage everyone who hunts and traps to educate the public and facilitate factual information. We simply do not have the support we once had. I don’t think this is because we don’t have the numbers. Many hunters and trappers in New Hampshire feel safe, after years of fighting off emotional propaganda they feel these activists will never gain ground in the “Live Free or Die” state. Yesterday’s decision should point out that the gloves need to come off and we need to all stand and defend our ways of life in rural New Hampshire. This includes all techniques (hunting, trapping & biology) for conserving our wildlife.
There was some light during yesterday’s hearing. My biggest motivation for supporting this season has not been about trapping bobcats, but about the public perception of trapping as a regulated pastime and a modern management tool. I became frustrated when our own Fish and Game Department remained silent, instead of standing up publicly in defense of those who partake in trapping, and point out the facts behind the department’s motivation for a hunting/trapping season on bobcats. The Department, and trappers, received a constant barrage of insults, death threats, and completely outlandish and false accusations about what we do in the New Hampshire woods. I feel as though almost half of the public lynch-mob stirred up by special interest groups could have been turned around with a little more factual information surrounding the season’s proposal; facts that I have brought up in previous articles over the past year regarding this season proposal. These were facts that interestingly enough never made their way to televised/printed local media news reports. At yesterday’s hearing, Fish and Game Director Glenn Normandeau spoke out about the importance of hunting and trapping, and the important role they both play in the North American Model of Wildlife Management. He also announced his disdain about the “(for lack of a better term), “abuse" from people opposed to the proposal against the department, the commission, department staff and NH trappers. This was a small win in my opinion, and clearly shows that some members of the commission, as well as the director, still have a backbone when it comes to defending the importance of regulated consumptive practices with regard to our wildlife.
All venting aside, this bobcat debate is far from over. While the odds are now stacked dramatically against us, I think NH’s sportsmen and women have a chance if they pull their heads out of the sand. Rational thinking members of the public also need to make their voices heard. I know you’re all out there, I’ve seen many of you before, its time to take our state’s conservation practices back. I hope to see you all at the next hearing.