The wildlife advocacy group, Voices of Wildlife in New Hampshire, petitioned the Fish and Game Commission in January to reduce the hunting season on coyotes in the state from its present year-round status to an abbreviated period of Oct. 15-March 31.
The rationale, according to the president of the group was that coyotes are "the most persecuted of all the wild animals" and that "they're the only fur-bearer right now that has open season all year long."
Currently, New Hampshire is one of 42 states that permit year-round hunting.
The petition for the shortened season was supported by the Humane Society of the United States. The commission also rejected a compromise proposal drafted by the Fish and Game Department that would have amended the season from July 15 to March 15. That proposal was seen as an effort to keep the question from ending up in the Legislature as happened with the Bobcat hunting proposal in 2016.
After the commissioners discussed the need for reducing the season, the president of Voices of Wildlife in New Hampshire, shouted to the commission, “Don’t sit there and tell lies. There are studies; there are all kinds of studies. We have brought all kinds of information.”
In the end, Commission Chairman Robert Phillipson, of Keene, felt that no changes should be made to the current hunting season because they had no scientific information about how many coyotes exist and whether the proposed reduction in the season would cause their numbers to increase.
“We are supposed to be managing game populations and wildlife by the best available science, not by petitions, not by emotions," Phillipson said. "The only responsible thing in my mind is to be sticking with that.”
As you can imagine, that position did not go down well with the anti-hunters who promised to seek a legislative remedy to reduce the season. Which is exactly what they did when the limited (50 permits) Bobcat season was proposed in 2016. Seriously, the last thing that those trusted with managing our wildlife want is the Legislature setting seasons or bag limits, because then the nature of the discussion changes from science and studies to media grandstanding, emotional blackmail and political considerations like re-election. Things that have no bearing on the issue, but that’s how it will be portrayed in the media.
I don’t think for one minute that the anti-hunters thought the commission would look favorably on their petition. They were banking on a "no" vote so they could up the discussion and their visibility. They know it worked once, so why not try it in a court that’s more favorable to their views. That way, they look like the heroes, while hunters, trappers and Fish and Game are made to look like the bad guys … again.
It’s too late to get a coyote bill before the Legislature this season, but I’m sure it’s a safe bet that they’ll find a sponsor to draft a Legislative Service Request for the next session.
I suggest that the Fish and Game Department, the Fish and Game Commission and hunting/outdoor advocacy groups take that time to get on the same page and develop positions and supportive statements addressing those positions other than “that’s the way we’ve always done it." Once those positions are developed and agreed upon, make them consumer-friendly so that you don’t have to be a wildlife biologist or attorney to understand them. There will be a fight. The question is, who will show up to fight for us?
Peter St. James is the host of "Good Morning New Hampshire," which airs from 6-10 a.m. Monday-Friday on 107.7 WTPL The Pulse and 107.3 WEMJ. He is an avid hunter and fisherman and licensed fishing guide.