End the Capture of Snowshoe Hares for Hunting Dog Training
Did you know that in New Hampshire beagle dog clubs are allowed to capture wild snowshoe hares to use as live props for training hunting dogs?
Since 2007, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has allowed beagle dog clubs to capture snowshoe hares from the wild and keep them in large, fenced-in pens to be periodically hunted by dogs. New Hampshire Fish and Game justifies this practice as necessary to support a hunting tradition, as stated in rule Fis 806.05:
As part of the department’s responsibility to recognize, preserve and promote the state’s hunting heritage, these rules allow the continuance of a long-held tradition of hunting hare and rabbits with trained beagles by fostering responsible dog training and breeding and promoting interest in the hunting of snowshoe hares.
Capture and Captivity
The capture and relocation of snowshoe hares causes many problems for these animals and can even be a death sentence. Snowshoe hares need particular habitat to survive. They need heavy thicket areas to hide from predators, as well as sufficient time to find the best places to hide. The clubs admit predation does occur by birds of prey and at least at one club by bobcats.
(The link below is to an image of two snowshoe hares in a pen, touching but separated by wire fencing, posted on the Claremont Beagle Club’s Facebook page, which has since become a private Facebook group.)
There are a number of beagle clubs in New Hampshire, and at least five participate in training exercises and competitions known as “field trials.” During field trials, snowshoe hares are chased by packs of beagles. Dogs are judged on their performance, and awards are given to top performers.
(The link below is to an image of a pack of beagles being released at the start of a field trial, posted on the Claremont Beagle Club’s Facebook page, which has since become a private Facebook group.)
As is commonly known, the sustained flight response in a hare can result in death. When they are preyed upon or chased by groups of beagles before becoming familiar with the terrain, snowshoe hares can literally die of fright.
(The link below is to an image of a man holding a dead hare by the feet as a small child looks on, posted on the Claremont Beagle Club’s Facebook page, which has since become a private Facebook group.)
Negligent Use of Keystone Species
Snowshoe hare are a keystone species. Keystone species are necessary for the survival of other species. Snowshoe hare are a primary food source for the Canada lynx and the American pine marten, two species currently protected in NH because of low populations.
In the United States, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects the Canada lynx. Therefore, capturing snowshoe hares could potentially be a violation of the ESA. Most of the snowshoe hares trapped by beagle clubs are from the northern part of the state, which is lynx and marten habitat.
2018 — Despite overwhelming public opposition, in 2018 the NH Fish and Game Commission expanded the live-capture of snowshoe hares by beagle clubs by increasing the number of trapping permits, widening the area in which hares could be trapped, and lengthening the trapping season.
In response, Voices of Wildlife partnered with legal counsel from the Animal Welfare Institute in an appeal to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (“JLCAR”) not to approve the changes.
2021 — Acting proactively, in 2021 Voices of Wildlife petitioned NH Fish and Game to end live-capture of hares by beagle clubs entirely. The primary argument put forth was that the practice violates the state’s animal cruelty laws. In New Hampshire, it is illegal to abandon a wild animal in captivity without proper provision for its subsequent care, sustenance, protection, and shelter.
Although NH Fish and Game did not end the practice, they did put procedures in place to better monitor the health of captive hares. Those with a permit to trap must now submit one or more hares, selected at random, to be inspected for disease, general health, and condition by a veterinarian each year.
While acknowledging that mandatory veterinary checks was better than no welfare checks at all, Voices of Wildlife nonetheless submitted an appeal, signed by more than 100 New Hampshire residents, requesting that the rule allowing live-capture of hares be repealed entirely.
Current —At the start of the 2021/2022 legislative session, Voices of Wildlife began the process of creating a bill to prohibit the practice of taking live snowshoe hares from the wild to be used for hunting dog training. Click to view the current version of the snowshoe hare bill flyer.