The ubiquitous gray squirrel dodged a bullet Tuesday in the form of a bill that would establish a year-round open season for hunting the bushy-tailed rodent in New Hampshire.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted 3-2 to declare House Bill 1356 “unfit to legislate.” The measure, which passed the full House, 194-147, on March 16, will be scheduled for consideration by the full Senate.
Under current law, gray squirrel hunting season runs from September 1 to January 31.
Democratic state Rep. Cathryn Harvey of Spofford was a co-sponsor of the original bill, which would have delayed the start of the season to Sept. 15 to give lactating female squirrels more time to care for their young.
But the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee reversed the intent of the bill on Jan. 25, amending it at the request of Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, to allow these animals to be shot at any time. .
On Tuesday, Harvey, who represents Chesterfield, Westmoreland, Hinsdale and Walpole, told the Senate committee that the state Department of Fish and Game has the expertise, information and responsibility for setting hunting seasons, not the Legislature. .
Declaring an open season for gray squirrels amounts to legislative excess, he said.
Harvey said the department has a good track record managing wildlife, including the turkey, which was reintroduced to select locations like Walpole in the 1970s and is now rampant throughout the state and can be hunted at certain times of the year. .
“Some of you may be saying that squirrels are not endangered, there are plenty of them, and that’s true,” said Harvey. “But you have to remember that everything that lives on this earth has a place in the food chain.
“So if we have a decline in our squirrel population for whatever reason, whether it’s hunting or some kind of catastrophic weather event, that can affect the animals that use the squirrel for food: our fisherman, our bobcats, our weasels, any number. of animals that depend on an adequate supply of squirrels.”
He also said the bill isn’t necessary because state law already allows people to kill squirrels that damage property.
Others argue that it would be better to be able to kill squirrels before the damage begins.
States throughout the region have hunting seasons for the gray squirrel. Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have shorter seasons than New Hampshire, Dan Bergeron, chief of the Department of Fish and Game’s wildlife division, told the panel.
He asked the committee to oppose the bill.
Weldon Bosworth, a Gilford resident who has a Ph.D. in biology, said squirrels can help a forest regenerate by moving seeds and nuts.
He also said it would be a bad precedent for the Legislature to remove an animal from Fish and Game’s responsibility to set seasons.
“I would like to make an analogy,” he said. “We’re talking about squirrels now, but let’s say someone came in and wanted to lower the bag limit on white-tailed deer. You go to a hearing on this and all of a sudden an amendment comes in that says the white-tailed deer hunting season is open year-round.”
Rep. Lang testified in favor of declaring the season open for squirrels, noting that there is an open season for other rodents such as porcupines, groundhogs and red squirrels.
He said gray squirrels can cause a lot of damage to buildings and farm operations and can spread disease.
“With such wide-eyed cuteness, it’s hard for many to consider squirrels the troublesome pest they really can be,” Lang said. “While they may appear soft, fluffy and harmless, the gray squirrel is nonetheless a nuisance pest.”
Rep. Howard Pearl, R-Loudon, also urged the panel to recommend passage of the bill.
He said squirrels damage the sap lines at his large maple sugar operation and eat his pumpkin.
“The gray squirrels and the other squirrels and the chipmunks are a big nuisance to us,” he said. “Red squirrels are not in season, and we can take them any time of year, but gray squirrels are in season and I personally don’t see the difference.”
Gray squirrels, which are larger than red squirrels, are sometimes hunted for meat.
Senator James Gray, R-Rochester, spoke of the squirrel kitchen.
“When I was a child, my mother was very, very sick with the flu,” he said. “And one of the best childhood memories of hers is her father going out and hunting a gray squirrel and making squirrel soup out of it for his recovery.”
Rick Green can be reached at [email protected] or 603-355-8567. These articles are being shared by partners at The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit www.colaborativenh.org.