New Hampshire law allows the killing of wildlife by a resident if that animal is doing substantial damage to their property. While that statue requires revision, to incorporate humane deterrence methods and responsible coexistence practices, the House will soon vote on a bill proposing a potentially detrimental change, rather than an improvement.
Each New Hampshire resident plays a role in the safe coexistence with wildlife and the conservation of valued species. The more human population, road, and infrastructure development increases, the more habitats are lost, ecosystems disrupted or destroyed, and the more species are killed, threatened, or displaced - and all the more crucial coexistence becomes.
While the reasoning behind the protection of our crops, animals, and property is understandable, the law should have an appropriate balance between such protection and ethical coexistence methods. One could argue that several state laws fail to meet that balance as it is, with the law that HB 1339 would change being no different. Unfortunately, the bill would worsen rather than solve that problem.
Existing law allows a landowner or occupant to pursue, wound, or kill any unprotected wild animal or bird which that person finds in the act of doing actual and 'substantial' damage to their poultry, crops, domestic animals, or property (RSA 207:26). Unprotected, meaning the animal is not considered endangered or threatened.
Representative Howard Pearl (Merrimack - Dist. 26), who motioned to table animal fighting paraphernalia ban last year, introduced HB 1339 this January, which would remove the word 'substantial' from that statue.
The existing requirement that damages must be considered 'substantial' for the wounding or killing of wildlife to be justifiable under the law, provides an increased potential to more thoroughly consider the circumstances, the opportunity to research or implement humane deterrence methods, as well as the chance to avoid inadvertent harm to a non-target or protected species.
While the existing law may be imperfect, HB 1339 would be a harmful revision, as it would remove such a requirement, therefore decreasing the chances of those essential considerations and opportunities.
Mark Ellingwood, Fish and Game Department's Wildlife Division Chief, testified against the bill last month, highlighting the need for the term 'substantial' within the law. "It's an important threshold to ensure that our citizens don't shoot a moose for walking across a newly planted lawn, don't shoot a deer for browsing on a single shrub that happens to be in someone's back yard, don't shoot a bear because it knocked over a barbecue, "he said. "I can assure you, with 40 years of professional experience, that these things would happen."
Some farmers provided testimony in support of the bill, such as a local organic farmer who stated he would have to turn to pesticides to prevent turkeys from destroying his strawberry field by pecking off the strawberry seeds, which also posed a disease risk.
In light of testimony, some believed that the law should distinguish between commercial farmers and residents, providing more protections for farmers, while preventing the unnecessary killing of wildlife by residents, such as with the examples provided by Mark Ellingwood.
That led to the amendment (2020-0134h) proposed by Rep. Pearl, which kept existing law the same for residents, but removed the word 'substantial' for "a person who is engaged in agriculture or farming as defined in RSA 21:34-a."
Representative David Love (Rockingham - Dist. 6) who supports the bill, wrote that the bill would allow farmers "... to remove an animal that is causing damage before the damage reaches hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars." Adding, "it can be days before the [Fish and Game] department investigates."
However, Mark Ellingwood reportedly disagreed and stated that Fish and Game officials have worked well with farmers.
At end of the session, the majority of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee felt the amendment was too vague, with some also believing that the required threshold of 'substantial' shouldn't be removed, regardless.
Representative Dennis Ruprecht (Grafton - Dist. 15) wrote against the bill stating it, "... would lead to the excessive taking of wild animals without good cause."
While the perspective of farmers is understandable, existing law provides adequate protections, in addition to a variety of practical and humane deterrence methods that are available to prevent such circumstances.
It is important to consider what type of deterrence methods that farmers who express to having legitimate issues are using. Based on testimony regarding similar laws over recent years, more often than not, adequate deterrence methods are not being used.
Lawful, Humane Deterrence Methods
Proper fencing (that is of adequate height and depth below ground)
Solar LED deterrent lights
Non-toxic scented repellents
Scarecrow motion-activated sprinklers
Bird feeder critter guards
Vent guards, bird wire, Gridwire, plastic spikes and 'spiders' that prevent landing
Such humane deterrence methods would not only potentially resolve an ongoing issue, but additionally, help to prevent future conflict, resulting in a more beneficial approach longterm.
Existing Laws Granting Protections For Farmers and Residents
RSA 207:26 (As referred to within HB 1339) grants residents and landowners the authority to wound or kill wildlife that is causing actual and substantial damage without a permit to do so.
RSA 207:22-C is an established wildlife damage control program, which offers, (I.) a wildlife damage mitigation program, (II.) cooperative cost-share fencing programs, and (III.) depreciation permit programs, which grant the Fish and Game Dept. the authorization to issue permits to kill animals causing damage to commercial crops, or which pose a threat to human health and safety, as well as pre-damage deer kill permits for commercial growers.
RSA 207:23-a allows residents and farmers who suffer loss or damage to livestock, bees, orchards, or growing crops by bears to file a claim for an investigation (conducted by the Fish and Game Dept.) and for funding to cover the damages.
RSA 210:24-b grants the Fish and Game Dept. authority over how nuisance animals are handled in NH, including the licensure and regulation of wildlife control operators engaged in the practice of trapping nuisance animals.
RSA 207:30 clarifies that NH law (chapter 207) shall not impair the constitutional rights of persons to protect themselves or their property from injury or destruction by wild birds, game, or fur-bearing animals, protected by the laws of this state.
The House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee voted 13-3 against the bill, with the three in the minority voting to pass the bill with the amendment. It is now up to the full House to vote against this potentially detrimental bill, which would push New Hampshire steps backward in our efforts for responsible conservation and ethical coexistence with our valued wildlife species.
The House is scheduled to vote on HB 1339 on February 13th. You may email or call your representative(s) and urge them to vote no on the bill, as well as Rep. Pearl's proposed amendment. If you chose to call, please note that the phone numbers listed are often personal, so be sure to call during appropriate hours.
Double Your Impact and Protect Cats!
The House will also be voting on bill HB 1123 on February 13th, which will help prevent 'hit and runs' with cats, by requiring that any driver who strikes a cat report the incident to the cat's owner or police. Click here for more on HB 1123.
Find your voting ward and district here.
Find your house representative(s) here.
Deadline: Wed. - Feb. 12th
Email Subject Title: Vote No on HB 1339 - Vote Yes on HB 1123
Example - *Please personalize your message:
"Hi Representative [their last name], my name is [your name], from [your town]. I kindly urge you to vote no on HB 1339 along with the proposed amendment to HB 1339 (2020-0134h), and for your support of HB 1123.
I strongly oppose HB 1339, along with the proposed amendment to HB 1339 (2020-0134h). This bill removes the requirement that damage caused by wild animals must be considered 'substantial' before wounding or killing the animal. The need that such damage is considered 'substantial' provides an increased potential to more thoroughly consider the circumstances, the opportunity to implement humane and responsible deterrence methods, as well as the chance to avoid inadvertent harm to a non-target or protected species. Removal of that requirement poses serious risks to our valued wildlife and prevents the use of reasonable and highly available humane deterrence methods. The NH Fish and Game testified in opposition to this bill, and I agree with their standpoint."
I support HB 1123, which has been added to the consent calendar for February 13th. The bill requires that drivers who knowingly strike a cat, report the incident to the owner or law enforcement as soon as possible. The bill simply adds cats to the existing law (264:31), which mandates such vehicle accident reporting when a driver strikes a dog. With the estimated hundreds of thousands of NH households having cats, I believe this law more adequately reflects the value of cats by residents.
Holly Ramer, Jan. 14, 2020, "New Hampshire bills target ferrets, foxes, feral swine," https://apnews.com/15a55821a23dd6c88b7e445d800cbb24, Last visited Feb. 2020
House Calendar No. 6, Page 6, http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/caljourns/calendars/2020/HC_6.pdf, Last visited Feb. 2020
NH RSA Title XVIII, Chapter 207, General Provisions as to Fish and Game, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1TbCwf8l1REYlb5vgo7mwLa2NwNR2zhMZ/view?usp=sharing, Last visited Feb. 2020