Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A group opposed to hunting culture approaches their state wildlife agency demanding immediate restrictions on the hunting of an abundant predatory wildlife species. The agency decides to entertain the demand, and determines the demand to be void of both scientific and biological fact. Said group responds by proclaiming “injustice” to anyone who will listen, recruits the assistance of nationally well-funded “greenwashed” organizations, and decides to strong-arm their views through legislative law-making instead. Does it sound eerily familiar? It should. Its a series of events that continue to spread from state to state. It festers unchecked, and has the potential to erode the integrity of real conservation endeavors from sea to shining freaking sea.
Let’s use New Hampshire’s recent events as the case study.
Just to recap; last year the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department received a petition from a registered 501c4 anti-hunting lobbying group demanding changes to coyote hunting in the state. You can read my report on that debate here.
The state’s Wildlife Division opened discussions in-house about the petition. In the face of an already abundant coyote population, the department’s hunting policy commission inquired as to what scientific documentation could be presented to necessitate such an immediate closure.
When no real biological data could be presented, the rule-making commission tabled the discussion. The state’s animal rights groups turned to the state’s legislature instead. Enter House Bill 442
The state’s Fish & Game Department, including the wildlife professionals who prompted the original discussion, stated on record that they strongly opposed House Bill 442. In the wake of HB442’s creation, the bill’s supporters unloaded a tidal-wave of questionable coyote “factoids” and off-topic tirades to the legislative committee reviewing the proposed restrictions. You can read my full report on HB442 and the seemingly flawed assertions behind it here.
Once real facts came to light, the state’s House Committee charged with tending to HB442 voted 14-6 to “kill the bill”, noting, among other things, that the state’s legislature was not the best place to decide and determine coyote management policies - a decision reached by a bipartisan committee. Supporters of the bill, still convinced they weren’t being listened to, attempted to drive the 400-member House to “flip” their own committee’s vote. The majority of the state’s full House legislature agreed with their committee, with another bipartisan vote of 233 - 126 on the house floor to render HB442 Inexpedient To Legislate (essentially killing the future of bill) last week. The integrity of wildlife management in New Hampshire stands (for now).
Not my circus, still my monkeys
I initially intended to sideline my resources on this particular debate. The bill’s wording didn’t affect regulated trapping practices, nor did it affect nuisance wildlife control protocols. It did, however, force wildlife hunting seasons to be made by statute, rather than rule - tying biologists’ hands if changes ever needed to be made.
Frankly, up until the day of the bill’s public hearing it was far more entertaining to watch this dumpster fire burn from a nice, safe distance. Alas, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone after the supporters of the bill started getting into some pretty outlandish demands and assertions. Once the state’s hunting critics opted to drag the NH Fish and Game Commission, state biologists, and even licensed trappers into a debate that was originally supposed to be about “protecting” coyote pups. I chose to lift my leg and leave my proverbial mark on this particular fire hydrant.
It wasn’t long before the editorial sections of the local newspapers swelled with sporadic commentary on HB442. The narrative was similar, “I own a farm” (usually consisting of a few chickens or ducks) “and I’ve never had a problem with coyotes” (to which I think you should thank your local hunter, trapper, or buzzing highway for keeping those critters in check!).
Included is usually a statement about how coyotes control rodent populations (coyotes do eat mice, but the amount of actual prey “control” they conduct on the landscape is highly debatable). And if you’re lucky you’ll get one of those “die-hard” critics who’ll throw in some arrogant off-hand commentary chastising the morality of the Fish & Game Department for “allowing” these licensed hunting “miscreants” to reside in “their” forests. These statements are usually punctuated with some arbitrary, yet obtuse statement about “support of hunting for food” but a call to reject any and all other aspects of hands-on wildlife management.
The driving forces behind HB442 should trade in their self-proclaimed ecology backgrounds for commercial fishing licenses; given the amount of red herring they’ve netted up and unloaded into the NH capitol building over this bit of legislation. Something tells me the state-house cafeteria will be giving away fish sandwiches for months.
Conservation or Preservation?
The groups and individuals behind HB442 have yet to make one positive public comment in support of any hunting practice, despite many claiming to “support” the activity. They have however, recently called for a ban on fur usage, called for a boycott on whaling practices, an end to all regulated trapping, an end to predator hunting, demanded mandatory landowner permission for turkey hunters, called for an end to pheasant and snowshoe hare hunting, and demanded a complete tear-down of the NH Fish & Game Department (amongst several other campaigns). They have a right to their opinion. But its what these groups do when their opinion isn’t forced into rule that really got our attention.
These groups, which include ties to the nationally outspoken anti-hunting conglomerate Humane Society of the United States, are also synonymous with hijacking the local conservation commission boards of sleepy New Hampshire towns and using those boards to promote an animal rights ideology.
It wasn’t long before we here at Furbearer Conservation received reports of several town conservation boards suddenly listed on lobbying flyers as being in “support” of HB442, as well as (in many cases) what is described as an “attempt to restructure the governance and policy making of the NH Fish & Game Department”. I’ve been told when residents in these towns were made aware that their town conservation boards were politically speaking for them (without any kind of town vote or public discussion), the “coyote excrement” hit several spinning selectboard fans. In most of these cases, it was the decision of one or two individuals to drag an entire town into a political debate.
Since when are NH town conservation boards now permitted to double as PETA lobbying firms? Talk about being hoodwinked! As if national funding for these anti-hunting campaigns wasn’t bad enough, now these groups use deceit to suggest entire local towns and villages are on their side!
Its a circus side-show we all watched (unexpectedly) unfold during the 2016 NH bobcat season debates. The difference - neutral and level-headed minds were well prepared for the “second act” this time around - and we’ve confirmed shenanigans!
Town conservation commissions should be neutral parties of local government - delegated to conserve the natural resources contained within the boundaries of said town. They aren’t put in place to persecute licensed hunters & trappers or politically grandstand to dismantle a state wildlife management agency. If you’re local to New Hampshire, contact us to find out if your town was involved in the HB442 debacle.
Pickled (Red) Herring
One of the cornerstone messages during testimony on HB442 included the notion that the NH Fish & Game Department is in some kind of cabal with the state’s hunting and trapping community, as if we perform voodoo rituals in hooded robes over a cauldron, plotting how to best harass and manipulate New Hampshire’s wildlife. (Tinfoil hat required.)
Another primary topic of debate has been that the “majority” of the public doesn’t hunt, fish or trap, and therefore, the relevancy of this culture-base is now seemingly null and void. Don’t take my word for it - a brief web search brings up countless editorial letters and incessant social media rants.
These “hunter-haters” were apparently so appalled that a topic on protecting abundant predators received bipartisan opposition with the I.T.L. vote of HB442, that they propelled into an all-out tantrum in front of lawmakers, politicians, the media, and the world-wide-web. Members of these groups, who had a broad history of chastising hunters, trappers and state Fish & Game employees were now slamming a committee of bipartisan House representatives, even verbally attacking the House committee chairwoman, and proclaiming that the entire House Fish, Game & Marine Resources committee was “never a good committee for animals” to begin with (in their exact words - not ours!).
Apparently when it finally came to light that this small group of hunter-hating activists weren’t the “majority” of the public they claimed to be for the last 5 years, their testimony escalated to pure fiction; including (but not limited to) the assertion that professionals at the NH F&G Department supported their HB442 legislation (false), that trapping of coyotes takes place year round (false), and that “their science” showed hunting of coyotes in any respect creates more problem coyotes (debatable). Enter: “responsive reproduction”.
I've been aware of the “responsive breeding” concept for many years, and saw the undertones of its direct correlation with a nationally fueled desire by certain groups to "overthrow" the governance and management of natural resources and, more importantly, the setting and regulation of hunting policies. Those early undertones were self explanatory: If predators (such as coyotes) "regulate" their own numbers, there's no need to hunt them. If there's no need to hunt them one could suggest state agencies (and their governing boards) only favor the "hook and bullet crowd" by allowing management seasons; thus calling for a removal of hunting policy from the equation. Its what fueled New Hampshire’s now infamous bobcat debates of 2016, as well as the catalyst for last year’s NH Senate Bill 48 fiasco, which has now bubbled up into the battle-royal that was HB442. I digress.
Excessive Cake Eating Leads to Indigestion
Speaking for myself here, established professionals should be making the call on coyote management, not a “coalition” of private citizens with a few letters after their names. I think its safe to say that the local “anti’s” have an itchy trigger finger, and a knack for (in this case) throwing the coyote pup out with the bath water.
In short, the message being cast by New Hampshire’s hunting critics is clear. First the NH Fish and Game Commission were the “bad guys”. When the Department biologists jumped on board with opposing this and other assertions made by these groups (and their partners in conservation crime), the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department was now “bad”. To teach the state’s hunters and the “good ol’ boys” at NH Fish & Game a lesson, these activists took their grievances to the state legislature. When the state legislature turned up rejecting their assertions, the state’s legislative committee was “bad”. After the majority of the state House of Representatives voted to kill this nonsense, the state’s bipartisan legislature is now “bad”. Is anyone seeing a pattern here? I think its high time for a little inner self-reflection.
I find it interesting that despite HB442 supposedly being about a "reprieve" for coyote pups, much of the testimony and editorial comments from the bill's supporters circled around NH Fish and Game’s policy-making on hunting seasons, and the assertion of a supposed lack of agency staff "listening" to a group claiming to speak for all NH citizens (in reality, being a small minority of people who take umbrage with a regulated hunting culture).
And mind you, we’ve now (thanks to this bill’s supporters) trailed way off the path of talking about coyote pup rearing - the whole supposed point behind HB442.
All these people seem to do is scoff at the idea of wildlife management. They have made it their personal mission to drag all these “redneck hunting morons” into the proverbial light. These are the same people who sneered at rifle clutching, flannel-wearing hunters practicing real conservation efforts in the 1980’s; that was until they renamed it “ecology” and proclaimed it the “true environmental religion” - now condemning us “simpletons” for regulated predator management.
These groups just got done trying to restrict fox hunting and trapping months ago, citing a perceived decline in their populations. They viciously support limiting coyote hunting now - all while negating the glaring fact that the abundant eastern coyote is a negative competitor of the supposedly “less abundant” red fox!
The sad reality is that you cant have your cake and eat it too. Those opposed to any/all hunting refer to the biologists at NH Fish and Game as “experts” - except for when those same experts recognize regulated hunting and trapping as beneficial activities for conservation and biodiversity - then those experts are condemned and verbally stoned in the editorial sections of newspapers for being part of a perceived “hunting problem”.
My constituents and I may have our differences with the state wildlife department from time to time, but I’d rather have a debate with a wildlife professional over regulated cull than a politician any day (no offense to the suits and ties!)
When a density-dependent disease was believed to be threatening our fox and fisher populations, these same camps blamed the state’s trappers. When hunters were assisting the state with moose biology through harvest data, these camps were working to stop the state’s moose hunt. When volunteer trappers were assisting with bobcat population dynamics, these people were busy claiming the NH Fish & Game Department was “working only for hunters”. We now find ourselves all here again under the bright yellow circus tent of a coyote hunting bill, with the same jokers claiming the “moral majority” once again.
You’re not convincing me to support the argument for a shortened coyote season when your whole argument hinges on the fact that anyone who hunts, traps, or supports these activities for conservation are “bad people”.
When looking at the bigger picture of today’s hunting community, critics of regulated hunting and trapping activities rarely concern themselves with real facts. They concern themselves with how the facts appear.
It’s clear these critics in New Hampshire, and more importantly, North America, are only concerned with one thing; creating conflict, confusion and frustration - which leads to overzealous lawmakers blindly stepping in to “fix” a manufactured problem that, by all accounts with the killing of HB442, does not exist.
For now, we’ve asserted that when the music stops during the political game of musical chairs, the hunting community still has a seat. NH’s lawmakers made it clear that they’ve become jaded with this small group of protestors - they’ve grown tired with this same old song and dance from a small minority with an axe to grind against a broader hunting culture. As for those self-righteous hunting critics - time sours milk just the same.