Tables turned on squirrels, with NH House committee recommending open season
|Published: 01-28-2022 9:30 PM
CONCORD — A New Hampshire House committee got a bit squirrelly this week, upending a proposal to cut two weeks from the state’s gray squirrel hunting season into one that would establish a permanent open season on the furry creatures.
The House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee, acting on an amendment by Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, changed HB 1356 on Tuesday to call for a year-round open season.
The bill as amended, cleared the committee, 12-7, and now goes to the full House.
Democratic state Rep. Cathryn Harvey, of Spofford, N.H., was a co-sponsor of the original bill, which was intended to delay the start of the gray squirrel season until Sept. 15.
She said the measure was designed to give lactating females of the species more time to survive to care for their defenseless babies, which would suffer and die if a hunter killed their mother.
Under present law, the season starts on Sept. 1, which is earlier than some surrounding states. It ends on Jan. 31.
Prospects turned sour for the bushy-tailed rodents after some witnesses testified that they are damaging troublemakers.
Rep. Howard Pearl, R-Loudon, a maple syrup producer, told the committee on Jan. 14 that the small mammal chews into his buildings and the plastic tubing that carries sap for his sugaring operation. They also harm his squash crop.
They may be cute, but they are destructive, he said. Pearl described the “thousands of hours” he has spent fixing squirrel damage and said other maple producers have had similar experiences.
“Gray squirrels probably cost my business well in excess of $10,000 to $20,000 dollars a year,” he said.
Lang, chairman of the committee, said such arguments led him to author the amendment.
“The second thing I learned was that with the exception of the beaver, this is the only rodent with a season,” he said. “Red squirrels, gophers, porcupines you can hunt whenever you want.
“On top of that, we don’t live in Tennessee. I don’t think there is a significant proportion of our population that is hunting gray squirrels.”
Lang also said that while present law allows gray squirrels to be killed out of season if they are doing damage, it would be difficult to show which squirrel did what damage.
He also noted that these animals proliferate. A few years ago, there was a population explosion and dead squirrels littered the highways.
Hunting seasons are usually the province of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission.
Harvey called the two-week change recommended in the original bill amounted a “tweak” but argued the amended legislation to create an open season is beyond the pale and infringes on the commission’s responsibilities.
“I think it’s a very dangerous precedent to set,” said Harvey, whose district covers a number of Cheshire County towns. She is a member of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee.
“Fish and Game no longer has the sole authority to set seasons and methods of take? Now it’s part of the Legislature’s job? That could have dangerous repercussions,” she said.
“If we can say open season on squirrels, why not turkeys, or deer?”
Two years ago, animal rights advocate Kristina Snyder, of Chester, N.H., petitioned the commission for the two-week change, saying defenseless baby squirrels were being turned in to animal rehabilitators.
Tone Grochala, of Milford, N.H., is one of a number of people who testified to the committee in favor of the original bill.
“Quite frankly, squirrels can’t speak for themselves, and if I don’t speak up for them, I’m not sure who will,” she said.
“As a civilized society, I believe we need to minimize the suffering of not just human babies but non-human babies as well. I don’t think you need to be a mother or a father to recognize why leaving orphan babies in the wild to languish or suffer with little means to feed or protect themselves is wrong.”
Maine’s squirrel season begins on Sept. 25. In some regions of Massachusetts, the start is on Sept. 13, while in others it begins Oct. 16.
Some people like to eat squirrel meat. The animals are typically hunted with shotguns or small-caliber rifles.
“I know a lot of people say, ‘Who hunts squirrel?’ but I grew up having squirrel and rabbit at Thanksgiving in rural western Pennsylvania,” said Harvey, whose father hunted small game.
“I personally liked it. It is a darker meat with a rich flavor.”
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