Thick, Squatty, and a Bore: NH vs. the Groundhog
CONCORD (AP) — Four years before a celebrated groundhog began predicting the weather in Pennsylvania, a committee of New Hampshire lawmakers deemed the species "not only a nuisance, but also a bore" and recommended eradicating it from the state.
"In some parts of the state it is found necessary to shovel a path through the woodchucks in order to reach the barns," wrote Rep. Charles Corning in 1883. "This is not right."
Corning's humorous "Report of the Woodchuck Committee" goes on at length detailing the animal's many faults, including its appearance. "Its body is thick and squatty, and its legs so short that its belly seems almost to touch the ground. This is not a pleasing picture," he wrote. Of its behavior, Corning said, "It burrows beneath the soil, and then chuckles to see a mowing machine, man and all, slump into one of these holes and disappear."
The report declares woodchucks, another name for groundhogs, "absolutely destitute of any interesting qualities that is, such qualities as would recommend it to the average inhabitant of New Hampshire."
He concluded that the furry rodents were "one of the worst enemies ever known to the farmer."
Lawmakers responded by establishing a short-lived bounty on groundhogs at 10 cents per pelt, said Josh Elliott, majority policy director for the New Hampshire state Senate. He came across a reference to the study committee in Leon Anderson's 1981 book, "To This Day: The 300 years of the New Hampshire Legislature."
Elliott tracked down the full report and posted excerpts Friday on Twitter, the same day that the handlers of Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil said the groundhog called for six more weeks of winter after seeing his shadow at dawn.
"I can't figure out if the representative who wrote the report just thought it was the stupidest thing on the planet and he was annoyed he'd been assigned to it, or he was just having fun with it," Elliott said in an interview. "It could've been both."
The bounty, according to Anderson's book, was repealed two years later after the state treasurer brought some rather startling statistics to the Legislature. The number of bounty claims paid by the state jumped from 339 for the fiscal year ending in June 1884 to 122,065 by June 1885. In contrast, another document Elliott dug up showed that the $12,206 the state paid out for woodchucks was nearly five times the amount paid for bounties on all other animals combined (a bushel of grasshoppers was worth $1, but only 907 claims were filed).
Based on one lawmaker's count of 72 woodchucks within a "short distance," Corning estimated woodchucks numbered in the millions across the state in 1883. The current population is unclear, however.
Lt. Heidi Murphy of the state Fish and Game Department said that residents don't need a hunting or trapping license to kill woodchucks on their own property, but would if they pursued them elsewhere. She also noted that woodchucks are considered a high-risk species for rabies.
"So you don't really want to mess with woodchucks," she said.