CONCORD — A New Hampshire House committee got a little flustered this week, changing a proposal to cut the state’s gray squirrel hunting season from two weeks to one that would establish a permanent open season for 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 Tuesday to call for a year-round open season.
The amended bill passed out of committee, 12-7, and now goes to the full House.
Democratic state Rep. Cathryn Harvey of Spofford, NH was a co-sponsor of the original bill, which was intended to delay the start of gray squirrel season until September 15.
She said the move was designed to give lactating females of the species more time to survive and care for their defenseless babies, who would suffer and die if a hunter killed their mother.
Under current law, the season begins on September 1, which is earlier than in some neighboring states. Ends January 31.
Prospects soured for the bushy-tailed rodents after some witnesses testified that they are harmful troublemakers.
Rep. Howard Pearl, R-Loudon, a maple syrup producer, told the committee Jan. 14 that the small mammal chews on his buildings and the plastic pipes that carry the sap for his sugar-mining operation. They also damage your pumpkin crop.
They may be cute, but they are destructive, he said. Pearl described the “thousands of hours” she spent fixing squirrel damage and said other maple growers have had similar experiences.
“Grey squirrels probably cost my business upwards of $10,000 to $20,000 a year,” he said.
Lang, chairman of the committee, said such arguments led him to draft the amendment.
“The second thing I learned was that, with the exception of the beaver, this is the only rodent that has a season,” he said. “Red squirrels, gophers, porcupines that 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 current law allows gray squirrels to be killed out of season if they are causing damage, it would be difficult to prove which squirrel did what damage.
He also noted that these animals proliferate. A few years ago, there was a population explosion and the roads were littered with dead squirrels.
Hunting seasons are typically the purview of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission.
Harvey called the two-week change recommended in the original bill an “adjustment” but argued that the amended legislation to create an open season is unacceptable and violates the commission’s responsibilities.
“I think it sets a very dangerous precedent,” said Harvey, whose district spans several Cheshire county towns. He is a member of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee.
“Does Fish and Game no longer have the sole authority to set harvest seasons and methods? Is it now part of the Legislature’s job? That could have dangerous repercussions,” she said.
“If we can say open squirrel season, why not turkey or deer?”
Two years ago, animal rights advocate Kristina Snyder, of Chester, NH, petitioned the commission for the two-week shift, saying defenseless baby squirrels were being turned over to animal rehabilitators.
Tone Grochala, of Milford, NH, is one of several people who testified before the committee in favor of the original bill.
“Frankly, squirrels can’t speak for themselves, and if I don’t speak for them, I’m not sure who will,” she said.
“As a civilized society, I believe that we should minimize the suffering of not only human babies but also non-human babies. I don’t think you need to be a parent to recognize why it’s wrong to leave orphaned babies in the wild to languish or suffer with little means to feed or protect themselves.”
Maine squirrel season begins on September 25. In some regions of Massachusetts, the start is September 13, while in others it starts on October 16.
Some people like to eat squirrel meat. The animals are usually hunted with shotguns or small caliber rifles.
“I know a lot of people say, ‘Who hunts squirrels?’ but I grew up having squirrels and rabbits 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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