After years of failing to rectify a dreadful loophole in existing law, the State Legislature gets a third chance to protect New Hampshire's animals and residents from egregious acts of violence, with wildlife cruelty bill HB 1606-FN.
Existing Law Fails To Protect Valued Wildlife Species From Malicious Cruelty
The law acknowledges that NH is home to more than 420 species, and that "native wildlife constitutes an invaluable natural resource with ecological, scientific, educational, historical, recreational, economic, and aesthetic values to the citizens of New Hampshire." (RSA 212-b:2)
Despite the value of those species, NH law is dreadfully inadequate in protecting them. Due to existing loopholes, a person could maliciously sever the extremities of live animals, or set fireworks off on a skunk without consequence - incidents in Claremont, shared by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator during public testimony in 2017.
Forty-five states in the US have wildlife cruelty laws, with NH being one of the five that don't.
Current cruelty law (RSA 644:8) applies to domestic animals, household pets, and captive wildlife only (wildlife in zoos, sanctuaries, etc.). The Endangered Species Conservation Act safeguards 51 endangered and threatened species (RSA 212:A:5; fis 1000), with the Fish and Game laws and rules pertaining to 60 game species under hunting, trapping, and fishing seasons (RSA 212-B:2, Title XVIII; fit 300). This leaves over three hundred of NH's valued wildlife species vulnerable to malicious cruelty under the law. And while those 60 game species are provided certain protections under season rules and regulations, even those 'protections' are limited.
Last year, a group of football players from Kennett High School (North Conway) lured a duck, which a game species, out of the water. The students severely beat the duck with a broomstick and strangled the duck to death.
According to reports, the student who strangled the duck alleged he did so after intervening and to end the duck's suffering. Understandably, however, the American Veterinary Medical Association considers strangulation an unacceptable form of euthanasia.
With the case involving minors, the State did not file charges, and 'disciplinary action' was handled by Conway school officials, which included between one to five football game suspensions, 'educational programming,' mental health assessments, and community service, according to reports.
However, even if this case had not involved minors, the only applicable penalty under existing law would be unlawful take, which is a mere violation and comes with a fine amount that Major David Walsh of the Fish and Game described as 'minuscule.'
If a criminal maliciously beats or tortures a wild animal, law enforcement should not have to search for a coincidentally applicable law for suitable prosecution.
Moose, one of the most valued and protected game species in NH, could suffer blatant, purposeful torture with no suitable consequences under existing law. Unlawful take of a moose is a violation unless conducted outside of a permitted season, which is a misdemeanor.
While there are other potentially applicable laws, they are limiting and most have violation-level penalties, with only some at the misdemeanor level for a second offense. Such as the law prohibiting the possession of a moose or deer carcass without a moose or dear tag, which is a violation for the first offense (RSA 208:9). Although aggravated hunting while intoxicated is a felony, it requires that the incident results in serious bodily injury, which is currently interpreted as an injury to another person rather than an animal. And of course, the perpetrator's actions must be considered hunting (RSA 214:20; 214:20-b).
If a criminal maliciously beats or tortures a moose, or any wild species, law enforcement should not have to search for a coincidentally applicable law for the suitable prosecution of such a heinous crime. While limited, current cruelty law at least finds the purposeful beating, cruel whipping, torture, or mutilation of domestic animals or wildlife in captivity a felony-level offense (644:8, III-a).
"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
When We Protect Animals, We Protect People
Evidence of a link between animal cruelty and human violence became so compelling that the FBI began tracking such cases nationally and categorizing them as 'a crime against society' in 2016.
David Goldstein, Franklin Chief of Police testified in front of the House Fish and Game Committee in January 2017. He discussed the links between acts of violence against animals and people, and also shared that in a study of 36 convicted multiple murderers, 47% of them admitted to committing acts of animal torture.
Continued research has further highlighted the link between the two. A 2001-2004 study by the Chicago Police Department revealed that of those arrested for animal crimes, 65% had also been arrested for battery against another person.
An animal research study in 2002 additionally found that 100% of people who committed sexual homicide had abused animals, 99% of animal abusers had convictions for other crimes, and 61.5% of animal abusers had also assaulted a human.
An alarming aspect of the Kennett HS duck case was that the school's superintendent, Kevin Richard, was quoted stating that the punishment had to be "... reasonable and recognizing that these are adolescents that make bad choices."
While the inclusion of mental health assessments within the reported disciplinary action taken in that case is appreciated, referring to the incident as a "bad choice" is a dangerous and misguided notion. Not only is it a lack of acknowledgment of a horrifying and excruciating death, but of the fact that such a violent act requires an utter disregard for the value of other living beings and desensitization to suffering. That lack of awareness contributes to weak animal cruelty laws.
A Baltimore County prosecutor, Adam Lippe, who handles cruelty cases, justly stated, "In animal abuse, you have total power over the animal. If you're willing to exert that in a cruel, malicious and vicious way, then you're likely to do that to people, too, who don't have power, like children and vulnerable adults. It's an issue of a lack of empathy."
HB 1606-FN would allow for the suitable prosecution for violent acts against wildlife, while also giving law enforcement a tool to identify those who pose an increased risk of harming residents, potentially preventing such harm.
Since 2016, the FBI has categorized animal-related crimes as a crime against society.
HB 1606-FN Rectifies Dreadful Loophole Allowing Violence Against Wildlife Under The Law
Introduced by Representative Ellen Read (Rockingham - Dist. 17), and co-sponsored by Senator David Watters (Dover - Dist. 4), HB 1606-FN would rectify the loophole which allows egregious acts of violence against wildlife under existing law.
HB 1606-FN accomplishes that by making the purposeful beating, cruel whipping, torture, or mutilation of any wild animal, fish, or wild bird a felony. Although somewhat limited, this brings wildlife cruelty law in line with existing felony-level protections for domestic animals and wildlife in captivity.
As initially introduced, HB 1606-FN additionally proposed that anyone who 'recklessly' commits those acts is guilty of a misdemeanor. However, the majority of the House Fish and Game Committee voted to attach an amendment, enhancing the bill even further by changing the language to 'negligently' for a misdemeanor-level offense (2020-0373h). The Committee then voted 9-7 to pass the bill as amended.
HB 1606-FN is Years in the Making, With Immense Support of its Intent
This issue has been thoroughly considered by NH legislators, the Fish and Game, law enforcement, and animal protection organizations for years. Two wildlife cruelty bills similar to HB 1606-FN were previously introduced into the NH State Legislature; HB 381-FN in 2017, and HB 1412-FN in 2018. During public testimony for the bills, not one citizen, state agency, nor stakeholder testified in opposition to the intent of protecting wildlife from egregious cruelties. That includes the twenty-two people who testified in 2017 alone, among them being hunting and trapping associations.
For example, Paul DeBow, then president and a current director of the NH Trappers Assoc., testified against the language of the bill in 2017 but expressed support of the intent. He stated, "We certainly don't want people mutilating and being cruel to animals, absolutely not…"
Representative Cathryn Harvey (Cheshire- Dist. 1) who is now chair of the House Fish and Game Committee 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..."... "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."
And over 1106 days, work on the language is exactly what took place.
HB 1606-FN Resolves Language Concerns of Previous Wildlife Cruelty Bills and Ensures Protections For Sportsmen and Women
Those opposed to the language of cruelty bills HB 381-FN in 2017, and of HB 1412-FN in 2018, expressed two primary concerns, which HB 1606-FN explicitly resolves.
HB 1606-FN is proposed directly within Fish and Game code (Title XVIII) and excludes all lawful activity within the Fish and Game laws and rules - such as hunting, trapping, and fishing, as well as the protection of residents' health, safety, property, and crops.
HB 381-FN and HB 1412-FN were both proposed as revisions to the existing animal cruelty code (RSA 644:8), with an exclusion of any activity expressly authorized within Title XVIII. However, the opposition believed that the exclusion was insufficient and that the law should be placed within Title XVIII. The language of HB 1606-FN revises RSA 206:19-b, placing it directly within Title XVIII, while additionally excluding any manner of taking, open season time limits, permitted scientific investigations, or wildlife management practices lawful under Title XVIII or administrative rules, providing the utmost protection for sportsmen and women (HB 1606-FN, 206:19-b, II). The following laws, which are within Title XVIII and grant resident's protection from wildlife, are also exempt from HB 1606-FN.
RSA 207:26 (Title XVIII): Allows any property owner or tenant to pursue, wound or kill, any unprotected bird or wild animal which the person finds in the act of doing actual and substantial damage to their poultry, crops, domestic animals, or property.
RSA 210:24-b (Title XVIII): Grants the Fish and Game authority over how nuisance animals are handled in NH.
RSA 207:22-C III.a (Title XVIII): Grants the executive director of the Fish and Game the authority to issue depredation permits to kill animals causing damage to commercial crops or which pose a threat to human health and safety.
Additionally, RSA 644:16: Allows residents to use poison for the destruction of rats or other vermin in their own homes or upon their crops.
HB 1606-FN omits the term 'non-captive wildlife' which the opposition found confusing, and replaces it with 'any wild animal, fish or wild bird.'
Current animal cruelty code provides protections for wildlife in captivity only, being wildlife in zoos, sanctuaries, etc. (RSA 644:8). As a proposed revision of that cruelty code, the language of both HB 381-FN and HB 1412-FN included the term, 'non-captive wildlife' to extend certain existing protections to 'free-roaming' wild species. The Opposition found the term confusing and expressed that it should not be used. HB 1606-FN does not use the term 'non-captive wildlife,' rather the phrase, 'wild animal, fish, or wild bird, as defined in RSA 207:1.'
It is noteworthy that Paul Sanderson, the Legislative Rules Coordinator, and Col. Jordan, the Law Enforcement Chief, of the NH Fish and Game, drafted those solutions.
Malicious Acts of Violence Against NH Wildlife Should Not Be Tolerated
During the public hearing in January 2017, Rep. Katherine Rogers (Merrimack - Dist. 28), who is a former prosecutor, described an incident involving a man who poured alcohol on a wild turtle and lit the turtle on fire. Later that hearing, Chief Cormier, 2016 President of the NH Chiefs of Police, commented on examples of wildlife cruelty that Rep. Rogers and others shared that day.
"...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,
Public hearing Jan. 24, 2017
FBI, ’Tracking Animal Cruelty, FBI Collecting Data on Crimes Against Animals,’ Feb. 1, 2016, https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/-tracking-animal-cruelty, last visited Jan. 2020;
Alison Knezevich, ‘FBI to start tracking animal cruelty in 2016,’ The Baltimore Sun, Nov. 27, 2015, https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/bs-md-fbi-animal-cruelty-20151126-story.html, Last visited Jan. 2020
Cohen, W., Congressional Register, 142(141), Oct. 3, 1996
Degenhardt, B., ’Statistical Summary of Offenders Charged with Crimes against Companion Animals, July 2001-July 2005’ Chicago Police Department, 2005
Clarke, J. P., ‘New South Wales police animal cruelty research project,’ Sydney, Australia: New South Wales Police Service, 2002
Audio recording of public hearing for HB 381-FN, Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee, LOB Room 307, Jan. 24, 2017;
Audio recording of public hearing for HB 381-FN, F&G and Marine Resources Committee, LOB Room 307, Jan. 24, 2017;
Audio recording of public hearing for HB 1412-FN, F&G and Marine Resources Committee, LOB Room 307, Jan. 16, 2018, https://youtu.be/Omo1nEYY1so, Last visited Jan. 2020,
House vote, HB 1412-FN, February 8, 2018, https://youtu.be/1rQxftBBTXg, Last visited Jan. 2020