New Hampshire bills target ferrets, foxes, feral swine

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Animals are on the agenda at the New Hampshire Statehouse — with bills aimed at both protecting and pursuing them.

Lawmakers have filed at least a dozen bills this session focused on wildlife or domesticated animals, including measures to ban the declawing of cats and docking of dog tails. Both bills have public hearings Thursday.

There are also three bills before a House committee Tuesday were about killing other species. One would repeal a prohibition on hunting with ferrets, another would create a new safari hunting license for those taking elk and boar at a private game reserve and a third would lower the bar for killing animals that damage crops or other property.

Current law allows someone to kill wild animals that cause “actual and substantial” damage, but a bill sponsored by Rep. Howard Pearl, R-Loudon, would remove the “and substantial” language. He said requiring substantial damage was too subjective, wondering if it would be justified if a farmer killed a fox that made off with a few chickens.

Several farmers backed the bill.

“I don’t want you guys coming in and telling me what’s substantial damage or not,” said Dan Hicks, owner of Sunnycrest Farm in Londonderry, where deer have increasingly become a problem in his apple orchards.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department opposed the bill. Wildlife division chief Mark Ellingwood said officials have worked well with farmers, and that changing the law would result in the unnecessary killing of wildlife by other property owners.

“It’s an important threshold to ensure that our citizens don’t shoot a moose for walking across a newly planted lawn, don’t shoot a deer for browsing on a single shrub that happens to be in someone’s back yard, don’t shoot a bear because it knocked over a barbecue, “ he said. “I can assure you, with 40 years of professional experience, that these things would happen.”

The department stopped short of opposing the other bills, though officials raised objections to both.

Fish and Game legal coordinator Paul Sanderson said repealing the prohibition on hunting with ferrets wouldn’t actually allow it because using an animal for hunting requires separate rules and permits, such as those governing hunting dogs and falcons. Ferrets have been used in other countries to flush rabbits out of burrows. The only ferrets legal in New Hampshire are domesticated and ill-suited to the outdoors, said Rep. Bob L’Heureux, R-Merrimack.

“The thought of someone even using one for hunting is ridiculous,” said L’Heureux, who once owned 13 ferrets when his wife president of the New Hampshire Ferret Owners Association. “This law’s been on the books, it’s never created a problem. I don’t know what prompted it, but as far as I’m concerned, leave it there.”

Others also said the third bill, regarding safari hunting, was unnecessary. The measure would create a new hunting license for taking elk and boar at Corbin Park, a private, fenced-in shooting preserve that covers large parts of Croydon and several surrounding towns. The 24,000-acre preserve was founded in 1890 and is known for its extremely exclusive membership.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said it’s unfair that hunters there don’t have to pay the same fees that others do.

“Just pay your fair share. If you’re a millionaire, drop 40 bucks and buy a license,” he said.

The bill would use $25 of each license fee to fund a “feral swine mitigation” fund for damage caused by escaping animals. But Peter Crowell, president of the Blue Mountain Forest Association which runs the park, said the association already pays for such property damage. Most of the association’s 30 members already have New Hampshire hunting licenses, he said.

“We do feel its an intrusion on our rights and we pay our fair share now,” he said.

The Fish and Game Department did not take a position on the bill but cautioned it could create constitutional problems because, unlike wildlife that is regulated as a public trust, the park’s animals are considered private property.