NH Votes NO On Protecting Wildlife?
New Hampshire's current state laws do not provide any protection for non-captive wildlife. What does that mean exactly? It means that a person could maliciously light a turtle on fire, or torture a raccoon and there is no way of prosecuting them under NH law. HB 381-FN could change that, but on January 31st, the NH Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee voted against it. The survival of the bill now lies in the hands of the Full House, scheduled to vote on February 16th.
What is HB 381-FN?
NH animal cruelty code (RSA 644:8) includes protection for a "domestic animal, a household pet, or a wild animal in captivity." HB 381 is a bill that would rectify that loophole by adding non-captive wildlife to that list, making a person guilty of a Class B Felony, "who purposely beats, cruelly whips, tortures, or mutilates" a non-captive wild animal.
What is Non-Captive Wildlife?
Domestic animals and household pets are farm animals, horses, dogs, cats, etc. Captive wildlife, are wild animals in a licensed owner's custody, such as a zoo, fair or sanctuary. Simply speaking, non-captive wildlife is any native wild animal not included in those categories that is freely roaming our state.
Why Does That Loophole Exist and Do We Need HB 381?
Why does any gap in the law exist? It is usually one of two reasons, it was purposely left out to protect a special interest, or it was an oversight. One could assume when the law was written, wildlife was simply considered a food source and it was not anticipated that criminals would violently mutilate or torture a wild animal for enjoyment, the sole purpose of inflicting pain, and/or due to mental illness. However, that is the reality that we are unfortunately living in today, making HB 381 a necessity.
NH is One Out of Only Five States That Do Not Protect Wildlife
Forty-five states in the US have laws similar to, or exactly like those proposed within HB 381 currently in effect, including those who very actively partake in hunting and trapping activity, such as Maine.
How Does HB 381 Effect Hunters/Trappers?
It doesn't. HB 381 (paragraph VI.b) explicitly excludes any authorized activity under Title XVIII, which includes the entire NH Fish and Game Code regarding all licensed hunting and trapping.
Why Did The House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee Vote Against It?
Simply put, fear. But we will get to that later. First, let's take a look at some of the testimony and discussions during the meetings regarding the bill.
The House F&G Committee had three meetings regarding HB 381-FN: Public Hearing on January 24th, 2017, a 'Subcommittee Work Session' on January 31st, 2017, and the Executive Session (final discussion and committee vote) also on January 31st, 2017.
Support of NH Police and Links to Other Criminal Activity
David Goldstein, Franklin NH Chief of Police and Chief Robert Cormier, 2016 President of NH Chiefs of Police, Tilton Police Department, testified in favor of HB 381, demonstrating strong support of those who have extensive training and experience in the types of cruelties HB 381 would protect animals and residents against.
"In our case, our paramount concern is the public safety issues here. By adding non-captive wildlife to the list of species to receive protection from extreme acts of cruelty, this sensible legislation will help promote public safety and give NH police officials an additional mechanism for preventing and detecting crime and apprehending criminals. There is compelling evidence of a link between animal cruelty and human violence, including child abuse, spousal abuse and other types of criminal violence."
-David Goldstein, Franklin NH Chief of Police
(Public Hearing Jan 24, 2017)
During the public hearing Chief Goldstein went on to point out that those ties led to the FBI tracking animal cruelty cases in 2016, and that in a study of 36 convicted multiple murderers, 47% of them admitted to committing acts of animal torture.
Confusion With Term 'Non-Captive' Is Exaggerated
A resident of New Boston, NH gave about 18 minutes of testimony. Approximately 80% of that testimony was confusion over the meaning of the term 'non-captive.' "The thing that I am seeing in this bill is this is talking about non-captive wildlife," she said. "And I'm reading the bill and reading the bill, and I'm trying to figure out how anybody can beat, torture, or mutilate a wild animal without holding it captive." However, what was misunderstood, or left unacknowledged, was that the bill was referring to 'non-captive' as free-roaming wildlife, which are not considered 'captive' under existing law, such as wild animals in zoos and sanctuaries. The bill could certainly be amended adding definitions for clarification, or changing the terms.
Household Vermin and Negligence
Much of the testimony and commentary by the Representatives was regarding household vermin and negligence.
Paul Debow, President of the NH Trappers Association, stated, "I think we have a lot of homeowners that unintentionally injure animals; they don't know what they are dealing with. The glue trap that they set up for mice, they put it in the attic and all of a sudden a flying squirrel shows up. Well, it's not going to kill a flying squirrel, and they drag it across, and they chew on wires, it creates a long, long slow death."
Although the harm to any animal, squirrel included, is disheartening, HB 381 does not refer to those types of nuisance animal or negligent situations. However, for some unexplained reason, individuals, including House Representatives, could not shake the thought that HB 381 would lead to innocent residents getting charged a Felony for trapping a mouse or negligently harming household vermin. Of course under HB 381, or in a world of common sense for that matter, that simply just would not happen. What those discussions accomplished, was point out prefect examples of what is excluded in HB 381.
HB 381 Exclusions - Title XVIII, Fish and Game Statutes
Again, the entire NH code of conduct regarding all licensed hunting, trapping, bear hunting and the use dogs, fishing, including the bait used for fishing, are all completely excluded from HB 381. Sherlock Holmes could team up with the world's greatest prosecutor of all time, and they would not be able to prosecute a person under HB 381 for any authorized activity while partaking in licensed hunting, trapping or fishing.
HB 381 Exclusions - Nuisance Animals
Title XVIII also grants the F&G authority over how nuisance animals are handled in NH.
RSA 207:22-C Wildlife Damage Control
Paragraph III(a) goes as far as to state, "The executive director shall adopt rules, pursuant to RSA 541-A, regulating the issuance of depredation permits to kill animals causing damage to commercial crops or which pose a threat to human health and safety."
RSA 644:16 Exposing Poisons
This section confirms it is lawful for NH residents to use poison for the destruction of rats or other vermin in their own home or upon their crops.
HB 381 Exclusions - Negligence
Paragraph VI(a) of HB 381 excludes penalties of RSA 644:8 under Paragraph III, including III(a) through III(f), which all apply to neglect. The penalties regarding non-captive wildlife only apply to Paragraph III-a, which are the felony level charges, where negligence is not a factor.
How HB 381 Works
For a person to be prosecuted for cruelty to non-captive wildlife under HB 381, a prosecutor would have to take these steps:
Prove the person beat, cruelly whipped, tortured, or mutilated the animal
Prove the action was not authorized under F&G laws and rules
Prove the action was unlawful under NH animal cruelty law
Prove the person committed the act with intent to cause harm
So All Hunters/Trappers/Fishers Are Safe and Residents Won't Be Doing Jail Time For Poisoning Mice - Great. So What's The Problem?
Fear. That is the problem. Some stakeholders and members of the House F&G Committee fear that passing HB 381 will lead NH down a path towards completely banning hunting and trapping in the state of NH.
Theodore Tichy, Chair of the F&G Commission, "...We strongly feel, knowing the background of some of the organizations supporting this bill, that this is too easy of a way to go through the backdoor, so to speak, to get anti-trapping, anti-hunting, anti-fishing, regulations..."
Paul Debow, President of NH Trappers Association, "We would like to ask you to vote no against this bill; we think it's a roundabout attempt to prevent sportsmen from using traps."
Bill Supporters Offer A Compromise
Following the public testimony of Lindsay Hamrick, NH State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, Rep. Spillane expressed his discomfort with the fact that the bill only has one line within it (paragraph VI(b)) which covers the exclusion of all authorized F&G activity. He stated, "Given all the explanations and depth of the bill, you've still set yourself up for a bill that with a future amendment that strikes VI(b) makes all hunting, trapping, fishing and whatnot essentially illegal..."
State Director Hamrick replied, "...There have been bills in the past to look at the end of trapping and so that is already a possibility, so it wouldn't necessarily be increased as part of this bill that we're proposing here"..."If there are ways for us to strengthen that exemption so that it isn't one line, that it allows for much more oversight by NH F&G through having them be notified of cases, we're certainly open to that because that's not the intention of our bill."
Rep. Ellen Read (Rockingham, District 17) and Rep. Jesse Martineau (Hillsborough, District 42) also pushed for a compromise to retain the bill, which would allow for a vote by January 2018. NH legislative rules do not permit the submission of a bill with the same topic or intent two years in a row. Although legislators do find a way around that rule from time to time, whether that could be done with HB 381 is unlikely, which would push it to 2019.
Not One Rep, Stakeholder, or Resident Disagreed with the Bill's Intent
Rep. Cathryn Harvey (Cheshire- District 01) stated, "If there were several people that got up and said they disagreed with the intent of the bill then I would maybe go along with ITL (Inexpedient to Legislate), but that hasn't been the case ... So I think it would not be responsible on our part to just throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think we need to give people a chance to work on the bill since they all agree on the end result of what they want."
22 people and organization representatives gave public testimony on January 24th, and out of those people, 20 of them expressed they agreed with the intent of the bill. (2 individuals did not specifically state whether they agreed/disagreed with the intent)
For example, although Paul Sanderson, Legislative Rules Coordinator of the NH F&G Dept., was opposed to the wording of the bill, he expressed agreement with the intent. "With regard to the intent clearly we do not condone any of the behaviors that have been described here", he stated, "and we support the intent."
House Representative's Refusal To Compromise
Although there was a subcommittee work session on January 31st, it lasted less than an hour, and it was used to discuss killing the bill rather than possible amendments. Rep. Spillane and Rep. Long (Merrimack, District 04) voted to kill the bill and Rep. John Manley (Hillsborough, District 03) voted to retain it.
In Executive Session Rep. Spillane continued to express his fear of future repercussions due to the exclusion of F&G Statute only being one line of the bill, "...To have chapter XVIII a footnote means that at any time an amendment to strike that one sentence puts every hunter and trapper in this state in jeopardy..."
The House Fish and Game Committee Failed To Represent NH Residents
The committee had the perfect opportunity to represent the overwhelming majority which is in agreement with the intent of HB 381. Although committee members expressed their opposition was due to the wording of the bill, they refused to take their chance to retain it, so that adjustments could be made. On January 31st, the committee collectively voted to kill the bill. Clearly, if the wording was the true issue, the committee would have retained the bill to be revised. Perhaps it is time for us to consider the conflict of interest and/or the possible lack of objective thought process within our legislative committees.
Committee Vote - Roll Call Here:
12 - Inexpedient to Legislate
9 - Ought to Pass
During the public hearing, Katherine Rogers, sponsor of HB 381 and former prosecutor for local police, gave an example of the cruelty the bill is meant to prevent. She described an incident that took place during a live Facebook post of a man lighting a wild turtle on fire. "The post showed him pouring alcohol on the turtle and saying, 'give me 100 views and I'll light 'em. After igniting the turtle he said, 'give me 200 views or this '(expletive)' is gonna die."
"...We're trying to identify the people that are potentially dangerous to the public and that [commit] some of these acts, like examples given on Facebook and Youtube. If I get a call as a chief that that happened in Tilton, right now there is nothing that I can do about it and it's - it's a hard answer to give to those people that call us."
-Chief Robert Cormier
2016 President of NH Chiefs of Police, Tilton Police Department
(Public hearing Jan 24, 2017)
Find Your House Representatives Here:
Call Before/on February 16th (between 7:30am - 9am).
Example: "My name is (your name) from (your address), I'm calling to kindly urge you to vote 'Yes' on HB 381-FN, or 'Yes' to table the bill if that motion is made, as protecting NH's native wildlife and resident's from acts of violence is important to me as a constituent. Thank you."
Email Your Representative Before/on Feb 16th (8am)
Subject Line: Support HB 381-FN
Content: (See example above)