NH Fish & Game: Tied to the Whipping Post

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department recently posted a job opening for an "Animal Damage Specialist” to work with USDA-APHIS on behalf of the department. The position is announced at a time when human/wildlife conflict is at an all time high in the state - with new residents and a swelling tourist industry continuing to compete with wildlife for limited resources and space.

Among several requirements, the position called for “two years’ experience at a professional level wildlife, fisheries, or aquatic biology research management field, or in “another field related to the area in which the vacancy exists”.

Spoiler alert - the posion’s been filled; but it brings up a very good point about qualifications for “getting the job done” when it comes to wildlife management.

For those seeking a seat on the 11-member New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission, an unpaid policy board that oversees hunting and trapping laws alongside the Department, one of those prerequisites include the holding of a “resident fishing, hunting or trapping license in at least five of the 10 years preceding the appointment”.

Remember the statement for the Animal Damage Specialist mentioned above - experience related to the area in which the vacancy exists? One would think having experience in hunting and trapping to set policies on hunting and trapping would make perfect sense.

It would make sense - unless, of course, you’re opposed to hunting, trapping, and the scientific managing of wildlife to begin with.

Hunting critics in New Hampshire are already shoulder-deep in muddy waters over falsely “crying wolf” (or in this case, coyote) during legislative debates on restricting coyote hunting regulations. Like an insufferable ping-pong match, the debate over the regulation of wild predators has bounced between the NH Fish & Game Department and the state’s legislature for years.

After the state’s legislature rendered the debate “inexpedient to legislate” last session, several calls to revamp evisceration attempts of the state’s wildlife management agency have been rehashed in local media. A recent string of editorial letters pepper local newspapers and social media - showcasing true feelings.

One of the cornerstone arguments from activists over their desire to “re-structure” the Fish and Game Commission circles around the assertion that, because the requirement of fishing, hunting, or trapping experience is required for appointment, the commissioners “won’t listen” to the demands of non-hunters.

“Not listening” and “not agreeing with bogus pseudoscience” are two very different concepts - but I digress.

One issue with this criticism (to which there are several) - the same individuals who contend they’re “never listened to” have gone on a two-month-long smear campaign, alienating (and publicly trashing) two brand new commissioners before their appointment was even finalized.

Pot, meet kettle.

The disdain, which has been shared throughout the local anti-hunting cliques, seems to focus on not only the two newest appointees - Fred Bird, Strafford County and Paul DeBow, Grafton County, but also New Hampshire’s Governor, for appointing them.

The letters are painfully unobservant to the fact that the Governor’s 5-member bipartisan executive board also unanimously approved of both appointments.

Most damning of all - the letter was published in the Concord Monitor newspaper a week before the appointment process for either commissioner was even finalized!

As of the posting of this column, neither Mr. Bird nor Mr. DeBow have even sat in on their first official Commission meeting, or yet to make any wildlife management policy decision in their new capacity as commissioners. For their troubles, they’ve already been scorned in the papers and received online death threats from the state’s unhinged anti-hunting camps. The same anti-hunting camps now (once again) dogging state lawmakers to remove the “hunting component” from a hunting policy board.

Like clockwork, since this prefabricated ire started pumping, we’ve been made privy to some State House lawmakers soliciting co-sponsors on a bill to remove the hunting license prerequisite from the NHFG Commission - color us shocked. (More on this as it develops this coming legislative session.)

The Benumbing Begrudging

The NH Fish & Game Commission at their October 2018 monthly public meeting.

Sadly, this is an ongoing “par for the course” with a small group of people determined to dismantle nationally-accredited wildlife management endeavors. For the last 10 years, this same circle of critics have contended that the NH Fish and Game Commission are the end-all-be-all “bad guys” in a national debate over whether or not wildlife should be managed for healthy populations.

Last year, the Department’s biologists finally had enough, and started opposing flawed assertions made by these groups (and their partners in conservation crime). For their troubles, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department as a whole was labeled “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 instead.

When the NH House Legislative Fish, Game & Marine Resources Committee rejected many of these extremist views last year during the aforementioned coyote debates, the state’s legislative committee was publicly decried as “bad for wildlife” - according to contemptuous online activist web posts.

After the bipartisan majority of the NH House of Representatives stood with the NHF&G Commission, the NHF&G Department, and the House’s own legislative committee, and voted to leave management decisions to the department, the state’s bipartisan legislature was publicly labeled “bad” by this same small clique.

Now, as referenced above, they feel the NH Governor himself is “bad”. By proxy, his 5-member bipartisan Executive Council is supposedly “bad” and we now find these people looking back at the legislature decrying the NH Fish & Game Commission as “bad” again - except now they’re making these assertions before commissioners are even fully appointed!

Is anyone seeing the pattern here? I think its high time for a little inner self-reflection on the part of the critics. With falsehoods and theatrics like this, its easy to understand why the ethical sportsman, conservationist and law-maker should be skeptical to say the least.

The Actual Authority of the Commission

In essence, it would appear the NH Fish and Game Commission has been setup to fail - with members being written off as “terrible people” long before they’ve even made their first decision.

It also appears people who’ve been critical of the Department are drastically overstating and misconstruing what, exactly, the NHFG Commission is charged with managing. In fact, many citizens would be surprised with how little the Commission actually has the power of authority over.

According to statute, the NH Fish & Game Commission’s duties include setting policy on the conservation & management of wildlife populations and habitats, and the collection of necessary scientific information pertaining to such. A pretty broad statement - but not so fast; it appears the Commission’s actual authority has been eroded over the years in superseding statutes.

The NH Fish & Game Commission has no exclusive oversight over non-game/endangered species - a separate division within the NHFG Department. The Commission also has no exclusive authority over officers or the law enforcement division of the Department. There also appears to be very little as to their authority on state fisheries. The commission has no control over bird-watching, no control over recreational activities such as kayaking, trail hiking, paddle-boarding, mountain-biking, having a picnic, or any other non-hunting activities the “non-hunting public” wishes to take part in. (Sidebar: Despite the fact that NH Fish & Game doesn’t regulate hiking - they’re still rescuing lost hikers and tourists on the Sportsman’s proverbial dime - more on that in a future column.)

We don’t have a policy commission on hiking, wildlife-watching, or kyaking - but perhaps if hunting critics are so inclined to make noise, these “critics” could put their money where their keyboards are, and develop a commission within, say, the NH Department of Environmental Services.

“Their” commission could start by addressing their fellow “non-hunters” responsible for choking the state’s highways with litter and (unregulated) take of wildlife via vehicle strikes, and policing campers with a knack for habituating nuisance bears by feeding them popcorn and Slim Jim’s during the summer tourist season. Perhaps they could even take the burden off of the state wildlife agency that’s supposed to be tasked with managing fish and wildlife but instead spends the bulk of their time rescuing “non-hunters” off the state’s mountaintops on a regular basis. Again, I digress.

The majority of the Commission’s authority seems to rest with game hunting policy and funding. The majority of game hunting and trapping is already relegated to specific seasons and bag limits in most cases. Its not a hunting “free-for-all”. So - we ask again, what do the clearly unreasonable “wants” of non-hunting groups have to do with a state-appointed hunting-policy board?

Those of us close to the debate know the answer - these individuals have a seething hatred for the local hunting community; and the optimal way to strong-arm biased views is to remove and/or alter said hunting-policy authority. The appearance of injustice undoubtedly administers attention - whether that manufactured injustice has any real merit or not.

This isn’t about “saving” the integrity of the NH Fish and Game Department, as has been contended by critics of the Commission; and we have our doubts as to the capacity of these critics to actually “save” wildlife. Based on our own extensive research, it seems more about perpetuating a desire to doxx local hunters and drive all humans into an impermeable glass bubble whilst only observing the “pristine” and “dangerous” natural world on the other side.

With the greater hunting & fishing community leading the “financial charge” to manage and conserve wildlife for all stakeholders, the selfish perpetuation of moral superiority seems to be the driving force for local activists - shaking their fists at the hunting community and real wildlife professionals while damning the human race for ever setting foot off the designated hiking trails.

Frankly, the NHFG Commission just seems to be forced into the role of symbolic dumpster for the state’s proverbial (and political) ecological (or “ego”-logical) garbage.

Bottom line - science requires a logical approach with ethical boundaries set in place to ensure the most effective approach; not outrageous claims perpetuated by a few emotional posts on social media. Overall, the wildlife enjoyed by all seems to be doing pretty well under the current layers of management policy - non-hunting-related environmental aspects fully considered.

Wildlife Management Works. Stockpiling Wildlife Doesn’t.

Attempts to discredit and dismantle the wildlife management arm of the state’s fish and game department isn’t the first shoot-from-the-hip tantrum we’ve seen from this small circle of critics.

NH Sportsmen fill the NHF&G Headquarters during a Commission public hearing on rule changes driven by animal rights activists to restrict rabbit and fox hunting. (Photo | NH Wildlife Federation)

The name attached to the most recent wave of letters and online gibberish referenced above may look familiar as one that’s been chastising several young women competing for the Miss NH Scholarship Program - and their sponsors - over the acceptance of a donated fur coat from the NH Trappers Association. Read more specifics on that topic here.

Similar to the unhealthily obsessive (and ongoing) Miss New Hampshire lambasting, other recent demands to greatly restrict outdoor activities in the state include (but aren’t limited to) pheasant hunting, rabbit/hare hunting, opossum management, bear hunting, turkey hunting, restriction of general hunting land use, general trapping activities, coyote, bobcat and fox hunting, and the blatant misinterpretation of statistical harvest data.

In each of these cases, the facts surrounding the conservation benefits of regulated hunting and trapping actions were flagrantly brushed aside.

Members of the same “critical” circle have also contended that non-hunting outdoor activities are “more popular” than hunting - therefore suggesting that birdwatchers and “passive” hikers should hold full sway over hunting regulations. The problem with this theory is that the figures used to assert wildlife watching & tourism outweigh the regulated hunting community blatantly negate the fact that licensed hunters, trappers, and anglers are included in that “wildlife watching” demographic! Just because one hunts and traps doesn’t mean one does not enjoy hiking and wildlife “watching” in the off-season.

And these are the individuals demanding control over managing wildlife.

The announcement of a recent talk being given by another such local critic references “Public Trust” and the “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation”. We’d love to understand their connection, and discuss (or better yet, dissect) the topic, but alas, shockingly, this “program on public trust” wasn’t actually open to the public - it was by “invitation only” - as we found out when we inquired about attending the talk last month.

And what of that “public trust” of wildlife for the greater good of all citizens?

New Hampshire currently sits at a time in history where conflicts with hungry bears, disease outbreaks amongst abundant urban mesopredators, and continued loss of critical habitat from human sprawl seem to be at an all time high. With a human populace growing away from mindfulness of natural biodiversity, we’d prefer decision makers who are capable of pulling the proverbial trigger when the call comes in to support sustainable diversity for all wildlife, as well as public safety.

The idea that our trusted wild resources should be hoarded immeasurably, while society turns a blind eye to population threats like disease, starvation, habitat loss, depredation, and the like - (concepts promoted by those wishing to overthrow the NHFG Commission) - are just as pervasive and offensive as they are blatantly unrealistic.

Nature will always come for her due and proper; and we - the apes with the bigger brains - have realized that we can manage wildlife for future generations to enjoy - rather than preserve and allow to let rot-away the precious resources the modern licensed hunter, angler, and trapper has fought so hard to both utilize and conserve for all interested parties.

In other words, these groups have already flaunted their disdain for non-biased discourse and shown that real science takes a side-line to rabid opinion - they’ve accomplished all of these ideological extremes without even grabbing full hold of the wildlife management steering-wheel yet.

To put it bluntly, the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department has successfully managed the state’s wildlife populations, in conjunction with licensed sportsmen and women, and input from citizens for decades. We’ve had cyclical population crashes, and immensely successful rebounds. We’ve had disease outbreak and quelled those outbreaks with density reduction. We’ve had endangered species conservation and abundant wildlife conflict mitigation. We’ve had unforeseen climatic impacts and natural boom/bust resource fluctuation. We’ve had it all, and we expect more to continue. It’s all been accomplished with the best available science, an educated non-partisan approach, and by thinking outside the proverbial “glass box” of “hands-off” preservation.

Criticism is very healthy, and ensures concerned voices are heard - but criticism should not replace relevance and fact. Especially with such precious natural resources hanging in the balance.