NH 'Cat Fight:
Conservation Versus Preservation.
For those of you who haven’t been up to date on the current Wildlife Management events here in New Hampshire, the state Fish & Game Department announced their intention to propose a conservative (and very limited) bobcat hunting and trapping season. There has been a moratorium on harvesting the NH bobcat since the 1980’s, and after years of studies and data collection (much of which assisted by UNH and NH Trappers), the state has deemed the wildcat population fit to endure a very regulated hunt. Two public hearings were held in the state at the beginning of February, and it gave some residents the opportunity to voice their support or opposition to the proposed season. The first hearing, held in Concord, painted quite a picture.
Conservation or preservation?
I expected a certain degree of emotional debating from some of the crowd in attendance. One organization had claimed responsibility for a random phone survey that was cast out to NH residents days prior to the public hearing. The survey used creative word-smithing and twisting of trapping terminology. At the hearing, the public commentary was quickly turned from an anti-bobcat season hearing, to an all-out bash-fest on modern trapping. It would seem as though these folks have their “black & white” view on everything; a crusade that reads more like an anti-human campaign, diverting far from the purpose of the night’s event - which was bobcats.
Organizations from across the state attended the hearing not only to announce their disapproval of the proposed season, but to threaten New Hampshire’s residents by taking the land they have been entrusted with managing and closing it off to hunting completely. The Harris Center, Nature Conservancy, Piscataquog Land Conservancy, Audubon Society, and multiple individual town boards threatened to “post their land” against all hunting if the bobcat proposal was not dropped. As one board member was quoted as saying, “an attempt to pit hunters against the NH Fish & Game Department”. I'm not much of a betting man, but I would go as far to say that many of the landowners who entrusted their acreage to these organizations would be rolling over in their graves if they knew their land was now being used as a bargaining chip for political debates. It’s a bobcat season today, what is it tomorrow folks? Are we going to close out conservation land to the public because one didn’t get that “special grant” they demanded? Perhaps we reach a point where deer hunting is no longer perceived as “okay” in a board member’s eyes; are we going to “shut down” conservation land to everyone then too? When these organizations are blatantly holding the land “hostage” because of a feeling, how far will the real public allow it to continue before we say “enough is enough”, and the donations and support starts to dwindle for their next “walking path” investment? I support differing opinions, but I find it personally offensive that we need to rope conservation land use into a debate about furbearer management.
Not everyone in New Hampshire uses conservation land for photography and jogging. If our conservation land is going to start being run like a members only club, perhaps its time the people reassess their role in our state’s managed lands. The truth is, prior to all this bobcat nonsense, I as well as hundreds of other NH residents held these organizations in high regard not only for their commitment to the land, but for their neutral approach in doing so. Apparently things have changed, and while I think some were banking on their “non-consumptive” demographic to continue donating to them, I think many of these organizations are going to find that their stance on this subject might have been slightly premature. I’ll also add that most trappers stand to lose nothing by these organizations posting their land – trappers require written landowner permission permits to trap wild species, and we’ve been getting the “short end of that stick” on conservation land for many years now.
Its important to remember that conservation is not preservation. If you want to be a preservation organization, market yourself as such. Conservation from an ethics standpoint is defined as “Conservation of biodiversity, environment, and natural resources, including protection and management.” The management of our natural resources has been successful through the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Guarding natural resources from being touched by anyone or anything is a far cry from managing that resource, while opening the door for others to enjoy. The proposed bobcat season falls under these management guidelines.
Its a Conspiracy!
Some conspiracy theorists apparently also attended the hearing in Concord, telling tales of a “greedy”, “money-hungry” government department catering to a “trapping lobby” (all 500 of us!), and the third-party UNH was somehow "in on it"! The way some of these folks were talking, you would have thought JFK and Jimmy Hoffa were in cahoots to doctor the UNH bobcat study data for global fur-trapper domination. No matter what the NHFG department decides to do in regards to the bobcat season proposal, i fear these folks will find another bone to gnaw on long after the bobcat-dust has settled. However, we live in a free America, and so we waive our flags high and let these folks go on for three whole minutes each in a packed state house during a public comment hearing on bobcat hunting. I forgot my tin-foil hat at home.
Both sides have been told that it was scientific and biological data that fueled the bobcat season proposal. We (the supporters) know that part of the bobcat season proposal includes the surrendering of harvested ‘cat carcasses to the state for biological studies, studies that could yield endless amounts of scientific data regarding the continued health and stability of the population. The data potential to be collected from a regulated bobcat hunt could surpass road-killed specimens, and give the state biologists information that other surrounding states have had access to for years now (since all surrounding states currently allow bobcat hunting and trapping). However, the nagging question remains inside me as to why the state Fish and Game Department, and their biologists, have not simply come out with this justification.
The department’s credibility has been ripped apart by national extremist organizations, the misinformed, the uneducated, and the media; and yet things seem quiet without input from the Department, allowing for a frenzied mob-rule. Are they afraid of offending someone? Frankly, I think that ship has sailed. I'm quite concerned that our Fish and Game Department seems to be awful quiet on the many benefits hunting plays in modern biology, as well as the benefits of the bobcat season THEY have proposed. Personally, I think the time to save self-image and public neutrality is far gone, and it’s high time the department step up and defend what they have been entrusted to manage. They would only be confirming what so many of their supporters have been screaming for the past year and a half; there is absolutely nothing wrong with using what the land gives you, as long as it is closely monitored and regulated.
Where do we go from here?
Not all was lost that night in Concord, NH. Although those in opposition of the season outnumbered NH outdoorsmen, I hear the second public hearing in northern Lancaster, NH was more of a level playing field. While many with ulterior motives attended this hearing to take down the NH trapper, I feel proud and comforted knowing there were also many who spoke in favor of the proposed season; a sign that science, logic, and true outdoorsmen/women aren’t completely dead yet. I’ve voiced my opinion in several past articles on this blog, and I think it’s high time to move on to more interesting subject matter.
If I could leave anything for those reading this who are against the proposed season, I think the only remark I could make is despite your stance or perception, I’m not here to cull an entire species. I have the highest respect and regard for New Hampshire’s wildlife and I only hope to see its abundance continue to grow. Despite extremely different views, I think somewhere deep in the thick of this messy debate, we’re somewhat on the same side – the side for wildlife sustainability. I think we both simply take different roads to get there.
You can still submit written comments on the proposed season until February 10th. Put “Bobcat Season” in the subject line and send your opinion to email@example.com. The commission will have a final vote whether to move forward with a season on February 17th 2016 at 1:00PM at NH F&G Headquarters in Concord. I encourage those of you who can attend to do so, to show support for our Nation’s wildlife management practices.
I’d like to thank the New Hampshire Fish and Game, the biologists, and the Commissioners for their consideration of the proposed bobcat season. A special “thank you” to the US Sportsmen’s Alliance for their continued support of NH hunters and trappers. I’d also like to thank the New Hampshire Trapper’s Association, The NH Wildlife Federation, and the countless hunting organizations and individual supporters who have fought so hard to shine a light on the truth about this debate. Good luck on the ‘line trappers.