One of the ongoing issues we face in Maine also applies to New Hampshire and probably other places as well, and that’s the undermining of democracy when it comes to who decides how wildlife will be managed. The most recent, egregious example is occurring right next door in The Granite State. It will probably sound very familiar.
A bobcat trapping and trophy hunt has been proposed because the animal’s population had increased in recent years and there’s a market for their pelts or as trophies, though they will not be food on the table. This plan, proposed by a very small minority of New Hampshire’s citizens, was to be decided by the state’s Fish and Game Commissioners, and public hearings were held.
The bobcat, often confused with the Canada Lynx, is a solitary and majestic animal who’s generally found in isolated habitats. Except by those who want to trap and kill them, they are regarded by many as a rare and wonderful creature, living proof of nature’s design and adaptability to a harsh environment. Most people would be glad to observe and appreciate these creatures from a distance and let them be. Others feel a need to destroy them.
The public expressed its views about the bobcat proposal in no uncertain terms. The Concord Monitor reported that over 14,000 people signed a petition opposing the season. At least 38 town conservation commissions also opposed the action. Multiple conservation groups, such as the Nature Conservancy, the NH Audubon Society, the Harris Center and the Piscataquog Land Conservancy were all against it. 700 people attended two public hearings, and 81% signed in as opposed. Letters were sent to legislators and appeared in newspapers. Hunters even joined with non- hunters to oppose this trapping and trophy-hunting season
You’d think that the message was loud and clear – leave the bobcats alone – but it still wasn’t heard.
Despite the overwhelming tide of opposition including more than 6,000 comments regarding the season, with the majority against it, the Fish and Game Commissioners approved the bobcat trapping and trophy hunt by a vote of 5-4.
Why did the Commissioners overrule the public?
One reason given was that non-hunters don’t contribute to Fish and Game’s funding. It’s a claim we’ve heard more than once here in Maine, and just like here, it’s bogus.To quote from Danielle Eriksen writing for the Concord Monitor:
Each year, $600,000 of Fish and Game funding comes from the general fund – your tax dollars, hard at work, supporting a group that doesn’t care about your opinion. It receives 33 percent of its income from federal sources. OHRV (Off Highway Recreational Vehicle) fees, such as snowmobiles and ATVs, make up a portion of its funding. The fact is, a mere 17 percent of Fish and Game funding comes from hunting license fees. Many of us pay in through ways beyond our taxes and OHRVs. I have a New Hampshire Hike Safe card and a moose plate on my car. I own firearms, and the federal taxes on the ammunition I use for target shooting contributes to Fish and Game… Don’t let anyone feed you the baloney that you don’t pay in, because if you are a taxpayer, you do.
Despite the common misstatement that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is funded entirely by the sale of hunting licenses – a claim that appears in print, posted on blogs and even shouted at public meetings – the facts state otherwise. Deirdre Fleming, a writer for the Portland Press Herald and a journalist who’s very friendly toward the state’s hunting interests, reported in September 2014 that in the fiscal year that began July 1, 56 percent of the department’s $38,000,000 annual budget came from hunting and fishing licenses and outdoor sporting fees. The rest came from the federal government (25 percent), special revenue such as conservation license plates (12 percent) and the state’s general fund (7 percent).
In other words, in addition to the licenses and fees, $9,500,000 comes from the federal government (which we all pay into), $4,560,000 comes from special revenue including loon plates (which some of us pay into), and $2,660,000 from the state’s general fund (again, which we all pay into).
All this reinforces a perspective that apparently can’t be stated often enough. The wildlife of any state is a public resource, not a private preserve, and all citizens should have a voice in how it’s being managed. The fact that Maine is currently soliciting public opinions about its Big Game Management Plan and that public comment was also solicited in New Hampshire regarding the bobcat proposal underscores that very point.
The obvious question is – if the public has a voice in how wildlife is treated, and if that voice is resoundingly opposed to methods that are either in place or are being advocated, why isn’t that voice obeyed by state officials? Many of New Hampshire’s citizens are asking the same question and are determined to have it answered.
The Granite State’s Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules must now review the process by which the Fish and Game Department approved the hunt, and one of those factors is a decision made “contrary to public intent.”
The public hearing will be held on April 1 at 9 a.m. in Representatives Hall in Concord. It seems likely that it will be well attended, and that whatever the outcome, the fight against the trapping and hunting of bobcats is far from over. It has been a lesson in perseverance and dedication that many of us could take to heart.