When Rep. Amanda Bouldin, a Democrat from Manchester, introduced legislation to delay the start of squirrel hunting season, her goal was to prevent hunters from orphaning baby squirrels still dependent on mom.
Originally, House Bill 1356 would have delayed the start of the gray squirrel hunting season by two weeks, from September 1 to 15. But the majority of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee had something else in mind: scrapping Bouldin’s language and instead presenting a proposal to end the hunting season altogether.
This would put gray squirrels in the same position as other rodents, such as porcupines, groundhogs and red squirrels, which also have open seasons year-round, according to the majority report. “There was no testimony that this small game species was endangered in any way, and we all remember the apocalypse of squirrels on our roads a few years ago. Even that mass casualty event did not cause a significant impact on the squirrel population now,” Rep. Timothy Lang said in the report.
Democratic Committee opposite the open season proposal and argued for a Sept. 15 start date to bring New Hampshire in line with squirrel hunting seasons in neighboring states.
Dan Bergeron, a biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game, said the department opposes delaying the start of chipmunk season. He said department data indicates there is little hunting pressure on gray squirrels, with about 9 percent of small game hunters going after gray squirrels. According to Bergeron, squirrel populations are primarily driven by food availability and weather patterns. He also pointed to the “large-scale mortality event” of 2018, when acorns and beech nuts were scarcer than in previous years. The department doesn’t believe the season’s current start date will hurt the squirrel population, Bergeron said, adding that the current season is a good compromise between hunters and those who “just enjoy chipmunks for intrinsic reasons.”
Abolishing the season altogether was an idea raised by Rep. Howard Pearl, a Republican from Loudon, when the committee took testimony on the bill. Pearl makes maple syrup on his farm and said gray squirrels are a pest that wreaks havoc on his team.
Currently, landowners and farmers can remove pests from their land regardless of the hunting season, but Pearl said removing the season would allow her to get help.
Both the majority and minority versions of the bill will be presented to the full House for a vote.