Committee Democrats opposed the proposal for open season on gray squirrels. (Yves Adams | Getty Images)
When Rep. Amanda Bouldin, a Manchester Democrat, introduced legislation to push back the start of squirrel hunting season, her goal was to prevent hunters from orphaning baby squirrels that still depend on mom.
Originally, House Bill 1356 would have pushed back the start of gray squirrel hunting season two weeks, from Sept. 1 to Sept. 15. But the majority of the House Committee on Fish and Game and Marine Resources had something else in mind – scrapping Bouldin’s language and instead putting forward a proposal to do away with 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 season year round, according to the majority report. “There was no testimony that this small game species was in any way endangered, and we all remember the squirrel apocalypse on our roads of a few years ago. Even that mass casualty event did not cause a significant impact on the squirrel population now,” said Rep. Timothy Lang in the report.
Committee Democrats opposed the open season proposal and argued in favor of a September 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 opposed pushing the start of squirrel season back. He said department data indicates there is little hunting pressure on gray squirrels, with around 9 percent of small-game hunters pursuing gray squirrels. According to Bergeron, squirrel populations are mostly driven by availability of food and weather patterns. He also pointed to the 2018 “large-scale mortality event,” when acorns and beech nuts were scarcer than in prior years. The department doesn’t believe the current start date for the season will harm the squirrel population, Bergeron said, adding that the current season is a good compromise between hunters and those who “just enjoy squirrels for intrinsic reasons.”
Abolishing the season altogether was an idea floated by Rep. Howard Pearl, a Loudon Republican, when the committee took testimony on the bill. Pearl produces maple syrup at his farm and said gray squirrels are a pest that wreaks havoc on his equipment.
Landowners and farmers are currently allowed to remove pests from their land regardless of hunting season, but Pearl said that doing away with the season would allow him to enlist help.
Both the majority and minority versions of the bill will be brought before the full House for a vote.
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