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Turkey & deer & bears, oh my: New hunting rules proposed by N.H. Fish and Game

A bear stands quietly in a field.

Hunters, trappers, and advocates for animals’ rights gathered in Concord Thursday to testify on new rule proposals from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

The hearing was one of three that the Department will host to address bi-annual changes in regulations meant to ensure wildlife populations stay within state-approved goals. Two additional hearings are scheduled for next week in Keene and Lancaster.

The Department proposed some expansions to hunting for bear, turkey, and deer in some parts of the state.

For deer, Fish and Game officials are hoping to provide more opportunities to hunt deer in 13 out of 20 wildlife management areas in the state, along with opening up hunting for deer on islands. Proposed rule changes would also allow hunters to kill a second deer before registering their first deer, and create opportunities for hunters to register deer online.

For turkey, officials are proposing to increase opportunity for hunting in one management region, and decrease it in another, meaning there will be little change. Another proposal would allow hunters to kill a second turkey before registering their first.

For bears, Fish and Game officials said that animal’s population in the White Mountains is higher than the state’s goal, and has been for a long time. They’re proposing to allow hunters to kill a second bear in that region, and want to expand bear registration stations in the state.

Connecticut is considering a proposal to legalize bear hunting this year, as their bear population continues to grow, and conflicts with humans increase.

Donald Ross, a Concord farmer, spoke in favor of expanding hunting opportunities for bears, as well as deer and turkey, saying those animals eat his crops and scare his customers.

“People will be in one 2-acre section and there'll be a bear eating strawberries two acres away,” he said. “Last year, I shot a bear right in front of 50 people. And they said, ‘Good for you.’ You know, it’s getting out of control.”

Other speakers advocated against expanded hunting and trapping in the state, and encouraged Fish and Game commissioners to consider animals as stakeholders.

“I do think we’re living in a human-centered world, and we need to sort of rethink that, because we haven’t left much for the animals,” said Joan O’Brien, who spoke in favor of a petition to restrict the hunting season for coyotes presented by some animal rights advocates.

That petition would restrict the hunting of coyotes for five months, from April through August, so they could raise their young.

Chris Schadler spoke on behalf of the New Hampshire Wildlife Coalition, in favor of the restriction.

“Red fox and gray fox are allowed to raise their young for a five month period during which they can rear their young. Coyotes are not given that opportunity,” Schadler said. “Seven months of hunting access, five months of reprieve. It is a minimal request.”

Other speakers said the state has too many coyotes, and advocated for keeping the year-round season and expanding the nighttime hunting season for those animals, which is currently January through March.

Some also said the state should reopen a hunting season for bobcats, which they said have become an issue in populated areas. Changes to bobcat rules were not proposed by Fish and Game officials.

New Hampshire has not had an open bobcat season since 1989, but it was closed due to concerns over the state’s bobcat population size. A 2015 proposal to reinstate a bobcat season was killed after widespread pushback.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the proposed changes to turkey hunting regulations.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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