Accounting for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, New Hampshire’s General Court has suspended legislative activity until May 4. The first quarter of 2020 saw the New Hampshire Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus host its first luncheon of the year, during which members discussed several sportsmen-related bills and listened to updates provided by the New Hampshire Fish and Game (NHFG) Department and the National Wild Turkey Federation. In the weeks leading up to this point, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) made numerous trips up to Concord, the Granite State’s capital, to testify in-person and provide written comments on over a half-dozen sportsmen-related bills. While the legislature had less than three full months of sessions, the time was anything but dull.
The New Hampshire Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus held a luncheon on March 12, during which it was joined by CSF, the NHFG Department, and several in-state and national conservation organizations. CSF’s New England States Senior Coordinator Joe Mullin briefly thanked the Caucus members for their support in backing the state’s sporting community during the various committee hearings, and then opened up the floor for Representative Cathryn Harvey, Caucus member and Chair of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee, who remarked upon a certain number of those bills. The next to speak was Carter Heath, New England Regional Director for the National Wild Turkey Federation, who offered an overview of the upcoming turkey season, followed by an update from Col. Kevin Jordan, NHFG Department, Law Enforcement Division, and tenured supporter of the Caucus. Col. Jordan spoke to some of the NHFG Department’s ongoing projects and answered any outstanding questions that the Caucus members posed.
On March 23, CSF sent a letter of consideration to Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Chris Sununu, requesting that he designate the firearm and ammunition industry as an essential business, prior to the closure of all non-essential businesses in New Hampshire. At a point in time when gun and ammunition sales are soaring at record levels, it is critical that New Hampshire, the home to many of the world’s leading and accomplished firearms manufactures, are allowed to maintain operations. On March 26, Governor Sununu issued Emergency Order #17, which under Exhibit A exempted “manufacturing companies, distributors, and supply chain companies producing and suppling materials and products for industries that include, but are not limited to . . . gun and related products (including associated retail).” This action fell in line with similar emergency orders issued around the nation.
Fish and Wildlife Agency Rulemaking:
Even though legislative sessions are on standby, the New Hampshire Fish and Game (NHFG) Department remains hard at work, protecting the State’s fish and wildlife and seeking additional opportunities for New Hampshire’s sportsmen and women. This is evidenced by the Department’s efforts related to the 2020 Wildlife Seasons Biennial Rulemaking. This pro-sportsmen’s rules package would, among many things, allow the use of 28 gauge and .410 shotguns for turkey hunting, while also reauthorizing science-based methods for preventing the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
On April 7, CSF submitted a letter of support for this proposed rules package, citing how improvements and developments in .410 and 28 gauge shot shell technology allow for greater efficacy and lethality in harvesting turkeys. Regarding CWD, CSF commended the Department for planning to reauthorize a bar on the import of any cervid carcass/parts of a cervid carcass from CWD positive states.
Prior to the legislature’s suspension, CSF was actively engaged on a number of sportsmen-related bills in New Hampshire, including:
900-ft. Discharge Distance – House Bill 1115 (HB 1115)
HB 1115 posed to increase the current firearms discharge distance of 300-ft. to 900-ft. around nonresidential commercial buildings, effectively closing-off access to hunting and firearms training. Constricting access in a manner such as this, is proven to curb hunter participation – especially with a discharge distance increase as outlandish as is in HB 1115. This bill’s restriction would also mean a loss in conservation funding to the NHFG Department. With the current limitation of 300-ft., there is an overall area of roughly 6.5 acres in which the discharge of a firearm is prohibited; whereas, when the distance is extended to 900-ft, the amount of lost real estate increases to an astounding 58 acres around each building. Given the role that sportsmen and women play in contributing the vast majority of funding for state fish and wildlife departments through the American System of Conservation Funding, HB 1115 posed significant threats to the future of the NHFG Department to financially support and carry out its conservation missions.
CSF submitted a letter of opposition to the House Municipal and County Government Committee, highlighting the arguments mentioned above and encouraging the Committee members to find ways that support New Hampshire’s sporting community, rather than harm it. The Committee ultimately held this bill as “ought not to pass,” and it subsequently died, failing to pass the House.
Restrictive Kennel Standards – House Bill 1389 (HB 1389)
What initially set the stage for a long few months of fighting anti-sportsmen legislation in New Hampshire was an ill-conceived kennel bill, which would have required dog owners to construct a specialized shelter if the dog was “outside and unattended” for more than 30 minutes. Dog owners are in the best position to understand and appreciate the abilities of their dogs, and the maintenance of kennel conditions is no exception. Under this bill, all dogs are painted with the same brush, giving no just consideration for the capabilities of varying dog breeds to withstand ranging temperatures.
The original hearing date for HB 1389 was ultimately postponed due to seemingly immeasurable number of in-state and national conservation organizations, CSF included, who attended the event to speak, only to have the hearing pushed to a later date. On January 28, CSF submitted a letter of opposition to the House Environment and Agriculture Committee and spoke out during the hearing about the negative bearings that this bill would have on the state’s sportsmen and women. Following a vote of “ought not to pass,” the bill died after failing to pass the House.
Recreational Trapping Ban – House Bill 1504 (HB 1504)
On February 4, CSF testified during a House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee hearing in opposition to HB 1504 – legislation that sought to establish a Committee to study prohibiting recreational trapping in New Hampshire. More pointedly, the new Committee would be tasked with defining recreational trapping and the feasibility of prohibiting its practice within the State, along with being comprised entirely of members of the legislature – three members of the House of Representatives and two members of the Senate.
The hearing designated for this bill saw a crowd of in-state and national conservation organizations amass to express their staunch disagreement. The related letter of opposition that CSF submitted outlined this bill’s efforts to usurp the NHFG Department’s authority over managing the state’s fish and wildlife resources. Ultimately, the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee held this bill as “ought not to pass,” and it died after failing to pass the House.
Allowing Anti-Sportsmen on the NHFG Commission – House Bill 1571 (HB 1571)
If passed, HB 1571 plans to give the green light for anti-sportsmen and animal rights activists to become members of the NHFG Commission. Permitting these individuals to serve their separate agendas by way of the Commission would compromise its integrity and the undeniable experience and expertise of its current composition.
CSF worked alongside numerous other sportsmen’s groups to speak out against this bill during its House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee hearing, while submitting written testimony in opposition to the same point. HB 1571 was eventually held “Inexpedient to Legislate” by a vote of 16-6, and has since been “laid on the table” until the legislature returns.
“Large Capacity” Ammunition Feeding Devices – House Bill 1608 (HB 1608)
If passed, HB 1608 would bar individuals from manufacturing, possessing, transferring, offering for sale, purchasing, receiving, or importing “large capacity ammunition feeding device[s]” into New Hampshire. By setting a maximum capacity of 10 rounds for long guns and 15 rounds for handguns, an indeterminably large number of firearms that are built and sold from the manufacturer with magazine capacities exceeding these amounts will be prohibited from purchase or sale – despite these magazine styles being common, factory standards.
CSF submitted a letter of opposition to HB 1608, referencing the above argument and making it a point to spotlight the impending detriment that this bill would have on New Hampshire’s conservation funding. As it sits, HB 1608 has passed the House and was sent to the Senate.
Shooting Range Liability – Senate Bill 469 (SB 469)
SB 469 planned to subject shooting range owners and operators to civil and criminal liabilities for the violation of noise ordinances that went into effect after the ranges were established. Had this bill passed, ranges would have been at risk of closure due to potential lengthy and expensive litigation, further leading to a loss in conservation funding for the NHFG Department. Recreational shooting is the keystone to financially supporting state fish and wildlife departments. The closure of shooting ranges due to noise violations – which are often initiated by new developments resulting from urban sprawl – would mean fewer opportunities for individuals to get outside and practice their shooting skills.
Apart from attending and speaking at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s public hearing for SB 469, during which the crows of sportsmen spilled into the hallway, the letter of opposition that CSF submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee provided a deeper dive into the arguments mentioned above. In due course, the Committee voted “ought not to pass” on this bill and it died after failing to pass the Senate.
Coyote Hunting Tournament Ban – Senate Bill 588 (SB 588)
A final bill that CSF weighed-in on during the short but action-packed regular sessions was SB 588 – legislation that would have banned coyote hunting tournaments in New Hampshire. This bill mirrors the anti-sportsmen community’s push towards banning these events, as misinformation and a general lack of understanding feed the narrative. CSF submitted a letter of opposition to the bill, as proposed, but following the February 4 hearing, New Hampshire Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Bob Giuda amended the bill to leave management authority over coyote hunting tournaments within the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s hands.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held “ought to pass with amendment” on the bill, and it has since passed the Senate. It currently rests in the House.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation will continue to work alongside Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Sununu, the New Hampshire Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to protect and advance hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and trapping throughout the Granite State.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?