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  • Writer's pictureGina Scrofano

NH Coyotes: House Fish & Game Misses The Mark

A bill proposing a regulated coyote hunting season with a short closure during the pup-rearing months was voted against by the majority of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee. The bill intends to create a hunting season for coyotes that is more aligned with the hunting seasons for most species in New Hampshire, and help to prevent the slow death of coyote pups due to starvation when their parent is killed. Although the bill is backed by science, based on coyote behavior and life-cycle, their essential role in healthy ecosystems, as well as their non-adverse impact on the overall deer population, many members of the Committee failed to recognize the merits when it came down to their vote.

During the executive session on February 5th, committee members cited their reasons for voting against the bill, which have been summarized below, followed by the facts that dispute them.(1)

Claim 1:

This is a backdoor attempt to strip the Fish and Game Commission of their overall governance and authority

Expressed by Rep. Laflamme (Coos-Dist 3), Rep. Kotowski (Merrimack-Dist 24), Rep. King (Hillsborough-Dist 33)

Facts 1:

The Fish and Game Commission's vote against their own biologists' proposal and a similar petition to close coyote hunting during pup-rearing, as well as their refusal to hear from the public before that vote in 2018, is what led to HB 442. That's also the reason why many have testified that opposing the bill, on the grounds that it is a matter for the Fish and Game Commission, is unwarranted. However, the bill's intent is specifically to close coyote hunting during pup-rearing to prevent the inhumane death of pups; nothing more, and its language literally reflects that.

In January 2018, the Fish and Game Commission was legally petitioned to consider a coyote hunting season with closure between April 1st - Oct 14th, to coincide with pup-rearing. Mark Ellingwood, Fish and Game biologist, who is also the Wildlife Division Chief, stated that the collective mindset of the game management team was that because they accommodate closure during pupping with other species, the NH deer population is thriving, and they could not justify the take of coyotes during pup-rearing, that the closure warranted consideration and they decided to submit a proposal to create a coyote hunting season with closure between March 31st - July 15th.

The Fish and Game Commission not only voted against their own biologists' proposal that day, but they refused to hear from the public and did not even read the petition nor any testimony submitted, including scientific information, before their vote.

That history may be what led to the request of legislative oversight regarding a coyote hunting closure during pup-rearing, via HB 442. However, the intent of the bill is to implement that closure specifically; no more - no less.

Claim 2:

There was a 'coyote sighting' in my neighborhood, and I received a call from a neighbor who believes such a sighting is a 'problem.'

Expressed by Rep. Khan (Rockingham-Dist 20)

Facts 2:

Lack of public insight regarding scientific coyote facts has led to the misconception that the mere presence of a coyote is a 'problem;' creating the false-justification of year-round indiscriminate coyote killing, increasing the risk of pups dying inhumane deaths, and contributing to cases of legitimate human-coyote conflict long-term; creating several issues where there often was no real problem in the first place. Such issues would be prevented with public awareness regarding coyote behavior, the benefits coyotes provide, as well as safe and humane coexistence practices.

Coyotes share our landscape, just as this land is the home of NH citizens, it is the home of coyotes. The mere sighting of a coyote does not constitute a problem, nor do other coyote behaviors that are misinterpreted by uninformed residents.

For instance, if a person happened to walk their dog in the woods within the area of a coyote den, a coyote may walk behind them, following them until they leave the area. Most often, the coyote doesn't bite nor lunge, and sometimes doesn't even bark. Science tells us that this is the coyote's way of 'escorting' someone away from their pups. Although there is no 'attack' involved, residents misunderstand this for dangerous behavior, when all the coyote did, was communicate that they had pups to protect in the area, without causing any harm.

An evaluation of potential human-wildlife conflict requires consideration of the specific situation, with the best available science in mind. There is a significant difference between a habituated coyote feeding on unsecured neighborhood garbage, physically attacking a human or a pet, or depredating on livestock, and a coyote who simply lives in the woods adjacent to a neighborhood, or who howled in the distance to locate their family members. Even a mild to moderately habituated coyote has the potential of being trained to keep their distance from humans and domestic animals with humane hazing methods.

Residents informed of coyote behavior would be less likely to resort to opposing the prevention of coyote pups dying from starvation, merely because they happened to see a coyote.

Claim 3:

Coyotes eat domestic, household cats.

Rep. L'Heureux (Hillsborough-Dist 21)

Facts 3:

Responsible pet ownership is essential regardless of coyotes, who cause less harm to domestic cats than other outdoor hazards.

Domestic cats are just that, domestic. Rather than contribute to the starvation of coyote pups, we can protect our household cats by keeping them safe in our homes, and by providing outdoor access within properly enclosed spaces. Such protections for our cats prevent harm from any wildlife or other domestic species, just as it prevents flea and tick infestation, disease, theft, or getting hit by a vehicle, which are far more common causes of harm to our pets than coyotes. Human population and the publics' interest in responsible conservation has continued to increase, while habitat has decreased. With indiscriminate, year-round hunting yielding ineffective and often counterproductive results in reducing coyote population long-term, coexistence practices and science-based, responsible game management are keys to protecting us and our pets, and ensuring healthy ecosystems for generations to come.

Claim 4:

Testimony from the Fish and Game did not support HB 442

Expressed by Rep. King (Hillsborough-Dist 33)

Facts 4:

The opposing testimony provided by the Fish and Game biologist at the hearing for HB 442, was in direct contradiction to their statements supporting their own proposal to close coyote hunting during pupping last year. No new research nor scientific information was cited during the testimony as a justification for this contradiction. Noteworthy is that the biologists' comments in support of the closure come before the Commission's vote in opposition; the biologist's testimony against HB 442 came after that vote.

"The collective mindset of the game management team was, to the extent that we accommodate that with other species, to the extent our deer population is thriving, and to the extent, generally speaking, we don't think we can, in compelling fashion, justify allowance of take during the pupping season to the general public ... suggesting a closure during the pupping season was a reasonable consideration for the Commission."

-Biologist, Wildlife Division Chief

NH Fish and Game, January 2018

"Our Eastern coyote game management team proposal is to align more along with what we do with other species and remove any human pressures on the population during pup-rearing."

-Wildlife Biologist II, Furbearer Project Leader

NH Fish and Game, January 2018

"We have common values that we apply across all species, the fact that it's an efficient predator doesn't make it in our mind an animal that needs to be removed from the landscape. I would add that the deer population is thriving in terms of historic perspective. So if the justification to allow for take during the pupping season is that there would be an adverse impact on deer, I think you'd find yourself on the wrong end of that debate; the deer population argues otherwise."

-Biologist, Wildlife Division Chief

NH Fish and Game, January 2018

"The notion of providing coyotes a five-month period of protection from harvest, when compared to other species I think it is somewhat unfair as we're in the business of trying to sustain deer populations at a levels that accommodate public views, coyotes actually consume deer, they may or may not need the same kind of protection."

-Biologist, Wildlife Division Chief

NH Fish and Game, February 2019

"To the extent that our law requires that you catch an animal in the act of doing actual substantial damage, if I was a farmer, particularly during lambing time and didn't have adequate protections in place, I can well imagine that some of our constituents would appreciate the opportunity to try to manage coyotes on their farm preemptively rather than have to catch an animal in the act of killing."

-Biologist, Wildlife Division Chief

NH Fish and Game, February 2019

Regarding the statement directly above, notice the phrase "didn't have adequate protections in place." This references a farmer who has not taken the time to responsibly protect their livestock from predators in the first place, such as fencing, spotlights or Coyote Rollers.

Secondly, this is also in contradiction to the Fish and Game's own website, which states "the great majority of coyotes don't prey upon livestock" and that for "farms situated in a coyote territory with no depredation, the resident coyote may actually be an asset to the farm by removing rodents and preventing problem coyotes from moving into the area."

Lastly, science shows that based on coyote behavior, when lethal removal of a coyote is necessary, it is extremely challenging to hunt the specific coyote depredating, due to their wiliness. This means, 'catching a coyote in the act' is required to responsibly remove a coyote that is legitimately depredating, regardless, as indiscriminate, 'preemptive' killing will likely lead to the inadvertent death of a coyote who was benefiting the farmer.

Claim 5:

"They're not nice animals; we need to control these things." ... "We [hunters] are the first conservationists, believe it or not." ... "Deer bring a lot of revenue to this state; coyotes bring nothing, not a dime."

Statements by Rep. Love (Rockingham-Dist 6)

Facts 5:

These statements are in utter contradiction to science, as well as responsible game management and conservation. One cannot refer to themselves as a conservationist, then follow up by vilifying and devaluing an entire species.

'Not nice' or 'mean' are not scientific terms used to describe any wildlife species. Coyotes happened to be omnivores; meaning they eat plants, fruit and animals to survive. Although disheartening, fawn predation is a natural form of mortality for deer. Coyotes do not primarily prey on fawns, but when they do, it contributes to an overall healthy and balanced deer population - this is not 'mean;' this is nature.

Science tells us that coyotes play an integral role in healthy ecosystems; providing invaluable benefits for other wildlife species, as well as humans. According to the Fish and Game, 56,000 people hunted in NH, 228,000 fished in NH, and 630,000 people watched wildlife in NH; generating $112 million in food and lodging in 2011. Even when considering it in terms of revenue alone, whether it is the direct hunting of coyotes, the hunting of other species, or wildlife watching, coyotes provide value.

Claim 6:

Upon review of the video including the Fish and Game Commission's discussion in January 2018, their vote against the proposal to close coyote hunting during pupping was justified. The Commission asked many questions we don't have answers for. We need more scientific studies and data; the current coyote population, whether or not coyotes are even hunted in the spring, the age of the coyotes currently taken in NH, and if they are alpha pairs. Support of the bill is entirely emotional, not scientific and we need scientific information to set the rules. The Commission does listen to the public and implements changes based on that, such as when they made efforts to save NH's turkey population.

Expressed by Chairmadam Harvey (Cheshire-Dist 1)

Facts 6:

Nearly 100 years of scientific research tells us the life-cycle of coyotes and their behaviors; they give birth and raise their young in the spring and summer, and pups rely on both parents for survival. Science also tells us that a 5-month coyote hunting closure will not have an adverse impact on NH's overall deer population. That information was backed by the Fish and Game biologists and Wildlife Division Chief during the meeting of which Rep. Harvey claimed she watched the recording of. No further data or studies are necessary to support HB 442.

Although Rep. Harvey's viewing of the Fish and Game Commission's 2018 meeting is appreciated, what was seemingly missed is that the NH Fish and Game biologists did not only propose a closure of the coyote hunting season during pup-rearing, but their Furbearer Project Leader and Wildlife Division Chief's statements supported it. Those same biologists also answered some of the questions that she raised.

During the meeting and included in the video, when Fish and Game Commissioner Barry Carr asked how many coyotes there are in NH, the biologist answered, "We don't know." .... "We don't know how many turkeys there are, we don't know how many fisher there are."

(Video: Fish and Game Commission Meeting, January 17, 2018. Biologist coyote season proposal and petition discussion @1:12:29, Commission's vote @1:43:42, Public comments, which were permitted only after the vote @2:31:31)

Although the Department estimates the number of certain species we have in the state, they do not technically have that information. Even with the Fish and Game Commissions' notorious, exhaustive and successful efforts to restore the State's turkey population, they technically still don't know how many turkeys there are in NH.

However, during testimony to the House Fish and Game Committee on February 5th, the biologist provided a NH coyote population 'guesstimate' of 4,000-5,000, based on the home-range and density of coyotes in VT and ME, where studies have been conducted. Later during the hearing an estimate of 100,000 for the NH deer population was provided by the NH Guides Association.

Also during the 2018 meeting and included in the video, the Fish and Game Commission Chairman Robert Philipson asked if any studies were conducted on Eastern Coyotes that show a significant loss of coyote pups due to hunting during the spring. The biologist answered, "Probably not, but clearly, if you kill an adult that those pups are dependant on, there will be a loss of pups. The extent of coyote take during that season, or period is unknown, likely very low. So, you could argue that it has no impact on the sporting community or very little impact as a consequence; it depends on your perspective; you could look at it both ways."

Additional information may be obtained by requiring coyote take reporting from hunters; something that the Fish and Game Commission has yet to propose, despite their constant demands for more 'data.'

In regards to the assertion that support of HB 442 is entirely emotional, animal protection organizations, biologists, conservationists, hunters, residents, and Straight Twist provided the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee with testimony, along with references to scientific information and studies, including those conducted in New England.

Chris Schadler, wild canid ecologist, also provided testimony in support of HB 442, which included her expert opinion based on 30 years of work with, and the observation and tracking of Eastern coyotes.

Although HB 442 has social aspects, the public's support of the bill stems from the knowledge that science has provided.

However, it seems, like sections of the video footage from 2018 that support the closure of coyote hunting during pupping, that the scientific information given to the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee was somehow also missed.

On February 5th, the majority of the Fish and Game and Marine Resources voted to kill HB 442. Rep. Bosman (Hillsborough-Dist 38) and the bill's primary sponsor, Ellen Read (Rockingham-Dist 17) were the only two to speak in favor of the bill. However, six members voted 'nay' on the motion to kill the bill, going against Leadership to do so.

Call Your House Representative

The full House will vote on HB 442 between March 19th and the 21st. With the House Committee being divided, and their motion, collectively, being 'ITL' (inexpedient to legislate/kill the bill), it is essential that our representatives hear from us to vote against the ITL and then vote to pass the bill.

HB 442 will NOT pass without your help - Calls are essential.

Find the Committee roll call here

Find your voting district and House Rep here

DEADLINE: Mon. March 18th - 7pm

Or March 19th at 7:30am sharp

Example: "Hello, my name is [your name], from [town] New Hampshire. I'm calling about HB 442, relative to coyote hunting. As a constituent, I strongly support this bill, and I kindly ask that you vote NO on the Committee's motion to 'ITL' and then vote YES to pass it. Thank you."

My House Representative expressed a concern/asked me a question - Now What?

Feel free to contact Straight Twist with any questions or concerns, and helpful information will be provided if possible.

(1). Summaries of these statements were obtained via attendance and audio recording of the executive session held by the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee, on February 5, 2019.

Straight Twist Logo, Animal Welfare


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