CONCORD, N.H. >> New Hampshire's Fish and Game Commission narrowly approved a bobcat hunting and trapping season on Wednesday after more than a quarter-century, a proposal that's received much public opposition.
The commission voted 5-4 for the season at a meeting in Concord attended by more than 100 people. The proposal generated the biggest response it's received during a public comment period in years, and most of it was negative.
Fifty bobcat permits would be issued through a lottery, according to the commission's proposal. The timing would be December for trapping and January for hunting. The decision now goes to a legislative committee for review.
Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Quebec have bobcat seasons, although none has the limits New Hampshire proposes.
Opponents say there's no need to hunt bobcats. They worry the animals will be exploited for their pelts and the population could drop again. Supporters note biologists' conclusions that the bobcat population could sustain modest harvest and still accommodate slow growth.
When the bobcat population dropped below an estimated 200 in 1989, the state protected it and banned hunting or trapping the animals. Following a bobcat study done by the University of New Hampshire, biologists said the population might have rebounded to as many as 1,400 in the fall and winter and 2,200 in spring and summer.
Commissioners opposed to the season said they'd prefer to wait a few more years to and review the number of bobcats.
"There's not many sightings of them," Commissioner Fred Clews Jr. of Hampton said before the vote. "They're not a nuisance. They don't bother anybody."
Commissioner John McGonagle, of Gilford, said the season would cost the Fish and Game Department another $10,000 to $12,000 that the cash-strapped agency doesn't have. "We are in a financial crisis," he said.
Commissioners supporting the season supported the university's research and said the season is a very limited program. They said the data gathered from the first trapping and hunting season could provide more details about the animals and help with future seasons.
Commissioner Robert Phillipson, of Keene, noted that wild turkeys once disappeared from the state, but that the department reintroduced them in 1975 and set hunting and management limits five years later. Today, the wild turkey population is thriving in the state.
"I want there to be more bobcats in this state. We cannot do that without proper data. This season will allow us to get that proper data," Philipson said.
Among the opponents to the season are many lovers of the outdoors, hunters and trappers. Some landowners said they wouldn't agree to allow bobcat hunting on their properties.
James Stever, who farms 75 acres in Concord, said he wouldn't allow it.
"Up until today, I had no problem with hunting," he said.
He pointed out that a lottery is held for moose hunting, even though the growth of the deer tick is hurting the moose population.
"This is a very disappointing action by the commission, and we hope it will serve as a catalyst for change in the way wildlife is managed in the future in the Granite State," said Lindsay Hamrick, New Hampshire state director for The Humane Society of the United States.