Opponents of bobcat hunting season, and some supporters, crowd State House hearing

Monitor staff
Last modified: 2/2/2016 2:54:08 AM
A proposal to reopen a season for hunting bobcats in New Hampshire drew plenty of opposition as well as some support at a packed public hearing Monday night, but the hours of public discussion showed a secondary issue: whether the controversy might spur bigger changes.

“The (Fish and Game) Commission shot themselves in the foot with this,” argued John Harrigan of Colebrook, a well-known outdoorsman and hunter due to his years writing for the Union Leader and other outlets.

Harrigan, who opposes creating the first bobcat season in 27 years, said he feared the controversy would make the public less likely to support the cash-strapped Fish and Game Department’s attempts to obtain state funding.

“I think it indicates that the commission is out of touch with what should be its broader constituency. It needs to be more inclusive. . . . It should not be squeezing out people who are not from a hunting background,” Harrigan said in an interview before his public statements.

State law says each of the 11 Fish and Game commissioners must be an “active outdoorsman holding a resident fishing, hunting, or trapping license in at least five of the (past) 10 years.”

The Fish and Game Commission is proposing to issue 50 bobcat permits for hunting and trapping through a lottery next year. New Hampshire has about 1,400 bobcats, according to a recent study.

News of the proposed hunt produced a storm of public opposition, which was reflected Monday. Roughly 300 people signed in to the hearing, and they indicated by a margin of roughly 10-to-1 that they were opposed to the proposal.

In their comments, hunters noted that while New Hampshire banned bobcat hunting in 1989 due to fears for the population, the population has rebounded in recent years.

“We know that. . . . For 10 years, we’ve been seeing them in the woods,” said Paul DeBow of Plymouth, president of the New Hampshire Trappers Association, which handed out orange “Yes on Bobcat season” stickers. “There’s a lot more out there than people realize.”

A number of speakers from the NHTA as well as some fish and gun clubs spoke in favor of the hunt, some noting that hunting licenses are one of the major sources of income for Fish and Game and helped pay for the study that led to the proposed season.

Larry Torr of Madbury argued that the season would help manage the species, as is done with white-tailed deer.

“You don’t want to manage bobcats like they do in Massachusetts,” he said, saying that “40 to 50” bobcats are reported killed on Bay State roads each year.

Many opponents said they objected to a bobcat season because its meat is not usually eaten, and it has not become much, if any, of a problem preying on livestock or pets.

Leah Cote, a fourth-grader from Franklin Middle School, spoke about how you can find trinkets and items made from bobcats for sale online.

“When it’s hunted for trophies, it’s disgusting,” she said.

An indication of how opposition may spiral came in comments from Tom Angeloro of Concord, who opposed the hunt.

“All you have to do is post your lands to all hunting,” he urged the crowd, which cheered and whistled. “Tell your friends, get it in the newspapers, put out editorials: Post your land. . . . Then guys who hunt deer, who hunt bear, who hunt turkeys, they probably aren’t going to go after bobcats, they will come to these guys (the Fish and Game Commission) and tell them – hey, please stop this.”

The Fish and Game Commission has scheduled another hearing for tonight at its Region 1 Office at in Lancaster. Written comments will be accepted through Feb. 10, and a final decision on whether to have a hunt is expected at the commission’s Feb. 17 meeting.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter 

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