Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Think of invasive species and Canada geese and knotweed come to mind. But wild boar and elk could join that list, if Rhode Island allows trophy hunting, according to critics of the practice.
Opponents of so-called canned hunting are worried that these and other popular hunting animals could be brought to Rhode Island to populate enclosed, private hunting areas. The animals may eventually escape and destroy wildlife and introduce disease.
“It has the potential to devastate the hunting community, as well as native wildlife populations,” said Arianna Mouradjian of the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island, a wildlife rescue facility in Saunderstown.
A bill (H5849) that would allow canned hunting in Rhode Island was introduced by Rep. Stephen Ucci, D-Cranston, but a hearing scheduled for March was postponed. The bill was also introduced last year at the behest of the exclusive The Preserve at Boulder Hills Club & Residences in Richmond. The bill allows hunting of game animals and birds on shooting preserves of 500 acres or more.
Although the prospects for this year's bill are uncertain this late in the legislative session, a hearing was recently held in the Senate for a bill (S880) that would outlaw importing wild animals for the practice of captive hunting.
Mouradjian testified at the June 4 hearing. She said importing animal for trophy hunting only benefits the small number of wealthy people who own and visit game-hunting ranches.
Michael Woods a hunter and board member for the New England chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers spoke about the devastation and millions of dollars other states have spent to mitigate the impact of imported wildlife, such as old boars, that have migrated from hunting facilities and started breeding.
“How are we going to come up with the resources to manage them and what are we going to do with a Department of Environmental Management that’s already strapped with financial resources and personnel?” Woods asked.
No one spoke against the bill.
Even importing native animals such as white-tailed deer can spread illnesses like chronic wasting disease (CWD), a contagious and fatal brain illness that infects deer, elk, reindeer, and moose. There are no treatments or vaccines. The disease first appeared in Colorado and Wyoming in 1967 and can be fund in 25 states. CWD hasn’t been found in New England but is endemic in New York. A new study found that the disease could spread rapidly in the Northeast.
Connecticut and Massachusetts have laws that prohibit importing wild and domestic game. Maine imposed new restrictions on wild game imports after CWD was discovered in the province of Quebec.
Members of the Senate Judiciary didn’t comment on the bill and held it for further study. A House version of the bill (H5130) had a hearing in February and was held for further study.