by Weldon Bosworth, New Hampshire Bulletin
Furbearing predators are probably the most important wild animals in New Hampshire. They play a crucial role and are an integral part in the dynamic balance and functioning of our natural ecosystems.
Among the many benefits predators provide New Hampshire are slowing or reducing over-browsing of plant communities by preying on herbivores like white-tailed deer. This helps maintain New Hampshire’s healthy forests. They are also one of the primary predators of rodents, thus reducing potential hosts of Lyme and other diseases.
Unfortunately, based upon trapping data, the only data the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department collects on the abundance of these predators, the populations of many of these species have significantly declined over the last three decades.
While the department does a good job managing sustainable populations of high-profile game species like white-tailed deer, bear, and turkey, it doesn’t manage these furbearing predator populations with the same care and attention. In fact, the department has no idea, and based upon what their hunting rules allow, apparently doesn’t care, how many of these valuable predators are killed in New Hampshire each year.
Present wildlife rules allow an unlimited number of furbearing predators (except for the fisher) to be shot with firearms and bow and arrow during:
- wildlife killing contests targeting coyotes and foxes;
- a seven-month open season on shooting red fox, gray fox, fisher, raccoons, opossum, and skunks;
- a year-long open season on coyotes;
- a three-month night hunting season on coyotes;
- and hounding of fox, raccoons, and coyotes during their long open seasons.
Few of these predators are shot for food or fur. Most are shot as a “sport.” Go into any sporting goods store that caters to hunters and observe all the electronic calls, infrared scopes, gun tripods, and even suppressors (silencers) for rifles. These are all used by licensed hunters to ambush these “varmints.”
Most disturbing is that under the current wildlife rules, there is no duty to report how many of any of these species are shot. How can the department and commission ensure that these populations are managed sustainably without knowing how many are killed each year? The short answer is, they can’t.
In my opinion, these long seasons and absence of a mandatory requirement to report those killed, is a holdover from when New Hampshire thought it appropriate to eradicate “varmints.” Apparently, the department has learned little about the value of predators since the 1970s, when wildlife scientists first learned that predators are critical to the health of natural ecosystems.
I say this because despite many public comments advising the department of their value, the proposed biennial rules addressing these furbearing predators are about to be finalized and head to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules for approval this week with no proposed changes that would protect them.
This story was written by Weldon Bosworth, a retired environment consultant and contributor to the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.
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