Legal status of game preserve complicates question of whether its users need hunting licenses 

Monitor staff
Published: 1/14/2020 3:53:04 PM

Forcing hunters in a huge private game reserve to buy state hunting licenses might run afoul of the New Hampshire Constitution because the elk and boars inside Corbin Park are private property, not part of the “public trust” like deer, bear and wild turkeys.

That was an argument put forward Tuesday by several people, including Fish and Game Director Glenn Normandeau, to a proposed law that would require state licenses for people hunting inside the 25,000-acre park straddling five towns near Claremont.

“Are you going to impose this on a farmer, also?” Normandeau rhetorically asked the Fish and Game Committee, following discussion that equated the legal status of some of the animals in the park with livestock like pigs and cows.

Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, told the committee that he proposed the bill because some people hunting animals should not be exempt from buying a license just because they’re in a private game reserve, especially when funding is needed by N.H. Fish and Game.

“This is not about canned hunting,” he said. “It’s about fairness.”

According to testimony, this is the fourth time in the past decade that a bill has been proposed requiring people to get hunting licenses to kill elk and boar inside Corbin Park, which was established in 1891 but remains little known around the state. The other bills all died, usually in committee.

The park has just 30 members who pay annual fees rumored to be in the tens of thousands of dollars to use the site. It is owned by Blue Mountain Forest Association.

In his testimony, Blue Mountain President Peter Crowell argued that the park’s members pay their fair share in property taxes and that they usually have hunting licenses, which are required to take deer, bear and other wildlife within the park. Elk and feral pigs are exempt from license requirements because they are descendants of animals imported into the park for hunting, so they are not considered part of the “public commons” of wildlife overseen by Fish and Game.

Crowell dismissed one major concern about the park, that it is a source of feral hogs escaping into the rest of the state. Wild pigs are a major and growing nuisance in parts of the South and West, doing millions of dollars worth of damage to agriculture and occasionally posing a hazard to people. In November a pack of them killed a woman in Texas.

Crowell said that the park’s swine are wild Eurasian boars “brought from Germany in the 1800s” and thus are not the problem that other swine species can be, partly because “they do not breed the way a feral hog would breed,” producing fewer litters with fewer babies than other breeds.

However, Eurasian boars are specifically listed as a problem species by many states worried about feral hogs. New York, for example, says on a website that the breed is a “highly adaptable, destructive, non-native, invasive species that can damage habitat and crops and threaten native wildlife and domestic livestock.”

In his testimony, Cushing proposed an amendment to his bill that would put aside $25 from the proposed license fee for a “feral swine mitigation fund” paying costs if the hogs escape and taxpayer money is spent as a result.

Corbin Park, which is named after a railroad tycoon and banker, a Newport native who established the park in 1891, is surrounded by a 26-mile-long fence. Crowell admitted that animals sometimes escape through the fence but said it was because of “locals cutting the fence to let them out.” He said the park has established “cameras in trouble areas” to keep an eye on the fence and also runs regular patrols.

Crowell said the park was “a non-profit club” that carries liability insurance if its animals do damage.

Animals do escape and come to public attention at times. A 90-pound boar was struck and killed on I-93 in 2017.

Several speakers noted that Corbin Park has an unusual legal history, starting with a special act of the Legislature in 1895 which established the park, which is said to be the largest enclosed hunting preserve east of the Mississippi River. No other high-fence game preserves are allowed in the state.

“There are a lot of interesting little privileges obtained by Corbin Park,” Cushing said.

Because boars and elk are considered the park’s property, if they escape they cannot be killed without permission of Blue Mountain unless the animal is actively doing damage.

Normandeau said there was a time when the state and the park decided it would be easier to let people kill any escaped animals. “But people would put piles of corn outside the fence and cut holes to lure hogs outside and kill them. So we got rid of that law,” he said.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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