CONCORD — The bobcat battle is far from over.A committee of the state Legislature still has to approve the rules for the controversial hunt recently approved by the Fish and Game Commission in a 4-5 vote, and plans to hold a hearing on April 1 in Representatives Hall, the largest venue available.
Outdoor columnist John Harrigan from Colebrook, a leader in the opposition to the hunt, said opponents are marshalling their forces for the April 1 hearing.
“There is tremendous communication,” he said. “We all know what’s going on with the Legislature. We have a lot of people in the Legislature who are solidly with us on this, many of them from longtime hunting families who live in rural New Hampshire and they hate this thing.”
The vote in favor of the hunt a week ago Wednesday came after months of debate, several well-attended public hearings and heavy lobbying on both sides. Hundreds testified both for and against the hunt, while thousands submitted written comments, some from other parts of the country.
The commission has proposed issuing 50 bobcat permits, at a cost of $100 each, through a lottery process. The hunting season would be similar to New Hampshire’s fisher season, with December trapping and January hunting.
Those rules and others governing the hunt have to be approved by a committee of House and Senate members known as the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, which is required by statute to approve the rule-making of state agencies.
A final proposal for a limited bobcat season was filed with JLCAR on Wednesday by the Department of Fish and Game. The proposal was submitted in time to be included on the March 18 agenda for the rules committee, but it will not be discussed at that time. At its last meeting on Feb. 19, the JLCAR decided that the bobcat proposal would be postponed to a continued meeting on April 1, when Representatives Hall is available.
More than 25 written comments have already been received by the rules committee, all of them opposed to the hunt, with many more expected in the weeks ahead.
Scott Eaton, Administrative Rules Director in the Office of Legislative Services, says the JLCAR has a variety of options in reviewing the proposed rules.
“The committee is not a policy committee,” said Eaton. “It cannot substitute its judgment for the Fish and Game Department, not on technical areas of expertise that have been delegated (by the Legislature) to the Fish and Game Department.”
That said, the committee does have the power to object to the rules or to approve them with conditions, citing any number of criteria outlined in state statute, such as agency authority or legislative intent.
The rules aren’t beyond the authority of Fish and Game, nor are they likely to be deemed contrary to legislative intent. It’s more likely that opponents will hang their hats on the criteria of “contrary to public interest,” which contains a requirement for “responsiveness.”
“Under responsiveness, if someone complains that their arguments were not overruled on the merits, but that the commission just didn’t consider them, the committee can ask the department to provide evidence to the contrary,” said Eaton.
If the JLCAR objects to the rules, Fish and Game will have an opportunity to amend them, withdraw them altogether or make no changes.
If the department decides it wants to go forward, and the committee feels the issue is serious enough to refer to the full Legislature, it can vote to sponsor a joint resolution to go before the House and Senate.
A vote by the committee on a joint resolution, should it come to that, would only impose a temporary stay on the adoption of the rules. “It’s not the committee that can stop the rule permanently,” said Eaton. “Only the Legislature can do that.”
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