Concord resident Tom Angeloro planned to kick back with his wife, Jean, have a glass of wine Wednesday night and celebrate the death of the state’s proposed bobcat hunting season.
“The public finally gets heard,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s what should have been done of course.”
Angeloro was joined by many in cheering the Fish and Game Department’s withdrawal of its plan for a limited bobcat hunting season. The department announced its decision Wednesday, citing the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules’ initial objection April 1.
“It became clear to all of us that I think that we were engaged in an uphill struggle that was going to end up with no winners,” Director Glenn Normandeau said Wednesday. “It was in the agency’s interest to withdraw it.”
Contentious debate in packed hearings, protests and even a documentary has fueled the issue for months after the Fish and Game Commission voted 7-3 in October to reopen a bobcat hunting season for the first time since 1989. It proposed issuing 50 bobcat permits through a lottery for a December trapping season and a January hunting season.
Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and Quebec all have bobcat hunting seasons already.
Another vote taken by commissioners in February just barely approved the proposal 5-4. Fish and Game Merrimack County commissioner Vincent Greco reversed his original decision in response to public outcry.
“I’ve seen controversial bills come and go,” said Greco, a Pembroke resident and former state legislator. “I think this aroused the most public outcry.”
Hundreds more showed up at hearings. And a public feedback period generated more than four comments for every New Hampshire bobcat. The department received more than 6,000 comments, while the state is estimated to have only 1,400 bobcats.
“If I had the authority and was trying to take away everyone’s Social Security, I doubt I could have gotten that many to show up at a hearing,” Normandeau said.
The hunt was proposed in response to population recovery among bobcats. While hunting for the cats was discontinued 27 years ago after only 200 remained in the state, a recent University of New Hampshire study estimated a rebound.
The UNH survey, conducted jointly by Fish and Game and the university between 2009 and 2014, was disputed as scientific backing for a “modest harvest.”
“The numbers were misguided,” said opponent Brenda Olson, a New Hampton resident and the director of the short documentary Protect the Bobcat: A New Hampshire Wildlife Story.
“It just does not make sense,” Olson said. “This is not the 1600s. We don’t need to earn a living by killing wildlife. Wildlife should be protected.”
Typically, bobcats are killed for their pelts.
But Roger Burnham of the New Hampshire Trappers Association said protecting bobcats is one of the best reasons to have a hunting season.
“You can’t do anything as far as monitoring them if you don’t have a season,” said Burnham, who added that it was trappers who wanted hunting discontinued in 1989.
“This population has come back so much. They’re going to need to be controlled,” Burnham said. “That’s the main thing we’re looking for.”
Paul DeBow, president of the New Hampshire Trappers Association, said he and other trappers are already seeing bobcats more often, including in traps set for other animals and on the side of the road.
“We’re far overdue for a bobcat with rabies in this area,” DeBow said.
DeBow added, “As you can imagine, we are disappointed,” by Fish and Game’s decision. He said he and other trappers would be getting in touch with their legislators on the topic. This time around, he said he felt like the opposition to the hunt was not a true representation of New Hampshire residents, but of vocal animal rights activists.
“This is their religion,” DeBow said.
While there were certainly animal rights activists from the New Hampshire chapter of the Humane Society and other organizations involved in the debate, there were some New Hampshire residents, too.
Olson said she became interested after seeing a Facebook post on the Fish and Game Commission’s October vote for the bobcat hunt. “I was appalled,” she said.
Her goal was to get Fish and Game to respect not just hunters and trappers, but wildlife watchers in the state.
“There’s too many people here that enjoy watching wildlife,” she said.
Angeloro is one of them. He said that he and his wife paid attention to the issue after visiting their Roxbury farm one day, where, Angeloro noted, they allow people to hunt. They were walking down the dirt road when a bobcat crossed in front of them – it was the first time Jean had seen one.
“You see a bobcat for the first time and you say, ‘Oh my God.’ You know?” Angeloro said. “For the first time in our whole life, we see one, and then they want to go and kill it.”
Normandeau said the bobcat hunt had generated by far the most controversy of any issue in his eight years as director.
“We knew it would be controversial, but nothing like this,” he said. “People I know, who are avid hunters, were against it, not because of the hunt itself but because they felt it would do damage to the agency in the view of the public.”
Greco said that was the reason he switched his opinion on the topic.
“I feel that it is in the best interest of the department to maintain a good relationship with the public,” he said. “I’m just satisfied the way everything is going and I hope this quells up the disturbances.”
(David Brooks contributed to this report. Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)