Beyond the Bobcat - Proposed Bill to Review NH Fish and Game
Whether from the perspective of an outdoor enthusiast, licensed hunter, wildlife photographer, or someone who is simply a NH resident, it certainly can be agreed upon that wildlife and habitat conservation are of importance to our state. It is also agreeable that all NH residents deserve equal representation regarding those matters. That representation falls in the hands of the NH Fish and Game Department and Commission. Recent events, as well as a Performance Audit, have brought to light inefficiencies that lie within these authoritative and influential groups. SB 48, which will now be voted on by the NH House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee, is a tool that can be used to rectify that.
What is the NH Fish and Game Department?
A Department within NH Government with a mission to, 'conserve, manage and protect NH's fish, wildlife, marine resources, and their habitats, inform and educate the public, and provide the public opportunities to use and appreciate those resources.'
What is the NH Fish and Game Commission?
Although the entire Department has the above responsibilities, it is the 11 Commissioners within the Department that carry the power and authority to add, change or remove state rules regarding those responsibilities. Those rules include wildlife management, such as hunting, baiting, trapping, which animals can and cannot be hunted, hunting season timeframe, number of animals that may be taken per season, what is and is not considered a lawful take, conversation regulations for wildlife and woodlands, etc. And those rules carry the same weight as NH law.
What is SB 48?
SB 48 is a bill that was unanimously passed by the NH Senate on March 9th, 2017 and referred to the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee. The bill will follow through with a Performance Audit of the NH Fish and Game Department, by establishing a well-balanced commission to study the Department’s financial stability and structure. Not to actually make any changes, but to study them.
The Performance Audit
The Audit, which includes fiscal years 2002-2007, was conducted by the Office of Legislative Budget Assistant and was published in 2008.
Top Three Audit Recommendations:
1. Change the Fish and Game Commission from an authoritative to an advisory body.
2. Change the name of the Department to better reflect the scope of the Department's responsibilities, which have greatly broadened since 1935, when NH legislature created the Department and Commission. A suggested name, Fish and Wildlife Department.
3. Amend NH Law to allow Commission Members to include stakeholders with non-hunting wildlife and conservation interests. Current NH law (RSA 206:2-a) states a qualified Commission Member must be, "An active outdoorsman holding a resident fishing, hunting, or trapping license in at least 5 of the 10 years preceding the appointment."
Full Audit here (Observations & Recommendations p.37)
Summary of How to Strengthen the Fish & Game based on the Audit here
Proven Bias & Conflict of Interests within NH Fish & Game
During a public hearing held at the NH Legislative Office Building on January 24th, 2017, the following line of questioning took place between House Representative James Spillane (Rockingham, District-2) and Theodore Tichy, Chairman of NH Fish and Game Commission:
Rep. Spillane asked, "Would you agree that the majority of funding of the Fish and Game comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and/or fees associated with the same?"
Chairman Tichy, "Yes, yes."
Rep. Spillane followed up, “And as such, would you then say that there might be the need to biased towards the hunters and fishers who are actually paying for the Fish and Game which represents the majority of the resources spent in this state for conservation of wildlife, conservation resources and the infrastructure that’s put forward to further the sustainability of this? To the best of my knowledge we don’t charge a kayaking license, and we don’t charge a canoe license, and we don’t charge a hiking license, unless you want to get a hike safe card, so would there not be then, since the people who are bearing the brunt of the cost are the hunters and fishers, not a better need for you to represent them?”
Chairman Tichy responded, “I would agree to that.”
What That Line of Questioning Illustrates:
1. The supported bias of hunters and conflicts of interests among our, fish, wildlife, and habitat lawmakers, including the Chairman of the Fish and Game Commission. We would be remiss not to acknowledge that many commission and committee members fall in line with that thought process.
2. Those same individuals are unfamiliar with how the Fish and Game is indeed funded or are intentionally hiding the truth regarding such funds from the public.
How the NH Fish & Game is Funded
This chart is based on the Fish and Game Department's 2015 total revenue of approximately $30 Million
28% is attributed to hunters, trappers, and anglers
72% is attributed to the general public through state and federal funds
The information used to create this chart was obtained by the NH Wildlife Coalition from reputable resources within the state of NH, such as the NH Fish and Game Biennial Reports, the US Fish and Wildlife Service 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, and 2011 National Recreational Boating Survey. Click here for details.
What Ever You Do - Do NOT Mention Bobcats
In 2016 the NH Fish and Game Commission proposed a hunting/trapping bobcat season. Despite large-scale opposition of land conservationists, biologists, non-hunting residents, as well as licensed hunters, the Fish and Game Commission pressed on with their proposal. After six months of the Fish and Game Commission's forward motion against the majority of NH, the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules objected to the season, finally leading to the withdrawal of the proposal.
This year, during two public hearings (January 24th) regarding review or restructure of the Fish and Game Commission, committee members recommended that those giving testimonies avoid mention of the bobcat proposal.
If I happened to be opposed to SB 48, I certainly wouldn't want mention of the bobcat season either, as it is a perfect example of why a review of the structure and power of the Fish and Game Commission is necessary.
Is the 2008 Audit Outdated?
There has yet to be any changes within the NH Fish and Game that address the first three recommendations within the 2008 audit, which have been highlighted in SB 48, so in that regard, the audit is still relevant.
If some feel the audit is outdated regardless, that is only more the reason to complete an updated review of the NH Fish and Game now.
The Bottom Line
All NH residents deserve equal representation from the Fish and Game, regardless of whether they carry hunting licenses or not. Support of SB 48 does not make any changes within the NH Fish and Game Commission; it only approves a review of the Commission. This bill is easily supportable by both sides of the spectrum, those who believe that changes must be made and those who don't. Those who don’t, may rest assured knowing that if all is well as is, the study will confirm that. The structure of the Fish and Game Department and Commission is an issue that has been simmering for quite some time and is about to boil over. Why not settle this once and for all?
1. Attend the Public Hearing
Date: Tues. March 28th, 2017
Location: Legislative Office Building, Room 307
Address: 33 North State St., Concord, NH
1a. Sign-In Supporting SB 48
Put your name and your address on the hearing sign-in sheet (it will be on a table in the room) and check off that you Support SB 48.
1b. Submit Verbal or Written Testimony To:
Chairman Web and members of the Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee
Learn how here
2. Call Your Representative If He/She Sits On The Committee
Find NH Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee Members Here
Find Your NH House Representative(s) Here
Have a match? Call Your Representative(s)
Introduce yourself as a NH resident and kindly urge them to support SB 48. Please note that numbers listed are often home numbers, so be sure to call during appropriate hours.
3. Email The Committee
Subject Line: Support SB 48
Identify Yourself: Be sure to provide your name and address.
Ask For Support: Kindly urge their support of SB 48.
Provide Input: Let them know why creating a study commission to review the financial stability and structure of the Fish and Game Department is important to you.
Email Address: HouseFishandGameCommittee@leg.state.nh.us
Learn more about how to email a NH committee here.
As always, be sure to communicate with kindness and clarity.
Quick Talking Points: SB 48 will not make any changes to the The Fish and Game Department, it will simply create a study commission, which will be made up of a variety of relevant and knowledgeable stakeholders. The Fish and Game Department requested approximately $2 million of our states general funds (NH tax money) to operate this year. Only about 30% of the total funding for the Fish and Game Department is attributed to hunters, trappers, and anglers, and those licenses have been declining over the past 10 years. The study commission will review the financial stability and structure of the Department and Commission and make suggestions to address issues of concern. Current concern being, but not limited to, equal representation of all NH residents, including those who enjoy our valued wildlife and woodlands by partaking in consumptive and non-consumptive activity.
(1) Update Feb. 23, 2017: Full Senate vote scheduled for February 23rd has been postponed for approximately 1-2 weeks, as the bill has been ‘Special Ordered’ off the Consent Calendar.
(2) Update Feb. 27, 2017: Post updated to reflect that SB 48 has been placed on the Regular Senate Calendar for a Full Senate Vote on Thursday, March 9th, 2017.
(4) Update Mar. 23, 2017: SB 48 has been referred to the House NH Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee. The ‘What Can I Do’ section of this post has been changed, removing Senate contact information and replacing it with that of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee.
(5) Update Mar. 24, 2017: Correction of typo from May 9th to March 9th for date of SB 48 passing the Senate, in fourth paragraph under What Is SB 48.