When the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (NHFGD) proposed a bobcat hunting and trapping season to open in the spring, AWI and allies analyzed the proposal and pointed out its deficiencies. We also called attention to its potential to violate the Endangered Species Act, given that Canada lynx—listed as threatened under the ESA—could be injured or killed in traps, or shot by hunters mistaking them for bobcats. States cannot allow harm to threatened or endangered species without first obtaining a “take” permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
On February 17, less than a week after the comment deadline, the NHFGD moved forward with implementing the bobcat season. The department evidently acted in complete disregard of federal law and the thousands of comments it had received from the public—most of them strongly urging it not to allow bobcat hunting and trapping in the state.
Fortunately, New Hampshire, like most states, has a legislative committee that must approve any rules passed by its fish and game department before they become official. New Hampshire’s committee, the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR), noted the concerns expressed by AWI regarding the potential ESA violations, as well as the procedural violations the NHFGD committed in fast-tracking the proposal without seriously considering public comments. At its April 1 hearing, the JLCAR therefore voted to oppose the proposal prior to sending it to House and Senate committees for further review. Fortunately, the NHFGD, seeing the writing on the wall, withdrew its proposal on April 13.
Although bobcats and other species in New Hampshire are spared for now, the battle is far from over. For years, New Hampshire has had liberal trapping seasons for many species other than bobcats—such as mink, fox, and coyote—and such seasons still threaten lynx. The state has not applied for a “take” permit from the USFWS with respect to these seasons, either.
Just as troubling, neighboring Vermont not only has liberal trapping regulations but has also specifically allowed hunting and trapping of bobcats for some time, also without first obtaining a take permit from the USFWS to cover accidental injury or death to lynx. Meanwhile, Maine allows bobcat trapping, and has received a take permit from the USFWS. Last August, AWI and allies filed a lawsuit against the USFWS for permitting, without requiring adequate mitigation, trappers in Maine to take Canada lynx. (See AWI Quarterly, fall 2015.)
As noted in that same Quarterly article, the USFWS is currently undergoing a status review for Canada lynx and this could lead to an uplisting from threatened to endangered—or a delisting, removing ESA protection altogether. While there is no evidence to indicate that lynx are recovered sufficiently to be delisted, AWI and members of the public must remain diligent in ensuring that the federal agency abides by best available science and decides to continue protecting lynx rather than bowing to political pressure to delist the species in the interest of expanded hunting and trapping.