Time for change

With the latest decision on fox and fisher season and bag limits, The New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission once again has demonstrated its total disregard for its statutory responsibilities and lack of understanding of wildlife management and ecosystem dynamics.

The Legislature [RSA 206:4-a(I)] has charged the Commission as the citizens’ representatives, “to be the stewards of the fish, wildlife, and marine resources of the state of New Hampshire” and to set and enforce fish and game laws “for the purpose of sustaining healthy populations of fish, wildlife, and marine resources.” The legislature expects the Commission to fulfill its fiduciary trust duties by using sound science in its decision-making, and management of wildlife populations with the goals of conservation and sustainability – not simply maximizing trapping and sport hunting opportunities.

Even with evidence that the populations of the red fox and gray fox have each declined over 65 percent in the last 20 years, on Monday, the Commission declined to endorse the limit on fox trapping and hunting proposed by the agency staff. How the Commission reconciles this significant decline in NH’s fox populations with its fiduciary duty to set laws that help maintain healthy and sustainable populations of wildlife is unclear. At Monday’s hearing, one commissioner stated that he had seen three foxes that day and, “that’s probably as scientific as using trappers reports, maybe a little more so.” That dubious rationale for ignoring the trapping data the Fish and Game staff had collected over the last 30 years demonstrates a callous indifference to using the science provided by their own wildlife biologists as a basis for making decisions on wildlife management.

By not shortening the season or decreasing the bag limits for these species, it was also apparent that the Commission gave no consideration to the fact that the significant decreases in populations of furbearing predators such as the fox species also have extensive negative consequences to the ecosystem. With fewer predator populations, lower trophic level species such as rodents (mice, voles and moles), chipmunks, squirrels and groundhogs, etc., can experience dramatic population increases which also potentially increases the incidence of infectious diseases, like Lyme. Is it unreasonable for NH residents to expect that those charged with conservation, protection, and management of wildlife populations and habitats [RSA 206:4-a(I)] to have even an elementary understanding of predator-prey dynamics and ecosystem health. I think not!

Will the fox species join the pine marten, bobcat and other species whose hunting and trapping seasons have been closed? Time will tell. What is certain is that this recent decision makes that outcome more probable. Meanwhile, with this decision the Commission has once again indulged its approximately 500 person trapping constituency and weighed their anecdotal evidence over the carefully collected data and science provided by their own staff. In my opinion, it is high time for a change in the constitution and role of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission.