A Stoddard wildlife advocate is suing the N.H. Fish and Game Department, alleging the agency’s structure and spending of public funds violate state laws and the state’s constitution.

Jean Slepian, who said she has been involved with wildlife advocacy for more than 35 years, filed the civil suit this past November in Cheshire County Superior Court. The N.H. Attorney General’s Office has filed a motion to dismiss it.

With the suit, Slepian said she aims to get representation for people who don’t hunt, trap or fish on the Fish and Game Commission, which oversees the department.

The commission has 11 members, one from each county and one to represent the Seacoast region. Commissioners are appointed by the governor in consultation with the N.H. Executive Council and must be well informed about fish and wildlife, and have held a fishing, hunting or trapping license for at least five of the 10 years before their appointment, according to state law.

According to Slepian, a commission with better representation would include three people from animal advocacy organizations, four from conservation, environmental and ecology organizations and four from hunting, trapping and fishing organizations.

She claims in her lawsuit, using U.S. Census numbers and data on licenses from the Fish and Game Department, that hunters, trappers and anglers make up less than 15 percent of the state’s total population. Since the commission uses taxpayer money, she added, the board needs “representation for people who are supporting Fish and Game with our taxpayer money.”

Slepian, who is representing herself and said she does not plan to hire an attorney, argues in her lawsuit that this structure protects the private interests of hunters, trappers and anglers. But this system does not work for “the common benefit of the whole community,” she writes in the 19-page lawsuit.

“... It is not working for the vast majority of New Hampshire citizens who prefer non-violent interactions with wildlife and have no representation on the Fish & Game Commission.”

Due to this structure, Slepian argues the department’s spending of public funds is unconstitutional.

“The New Hampshire Fish & Game Department does not protect the enjoyment of life of citizens who are not hunters, anglers or trappers in exchange for their payment of taxes, because these citizens are denied representation on the Fish & Game Commission,” the suit claims.

In the 2021 fiscal year, Fish and Game had a budget of about $32.7 million, according to the department’s website. The agency gets revenue from sources including fishing and hunting license fees, federal funds, off-highway recreational vehicle (OHRV) registration fees and state general funds. The department spends this money on services and programs such as law enforcement, search and rescue, inland fisheries management and hatcheries and wildlife and habitat management.

Aside from the lawsuit, Slepian also hopes to make her case for the N.H. Legislature to create more diverse representation on the Fish and Game Commission. Her lawsuit says six bills in recent years would have made changes to the commission, including broadening commission membership, but those legislative efforts fell short.

The Attorney General’s Office filed a motion on Jan. 13 to dismiss Slepian’s case. Michael Garrity, director of communications for the AG’s office, said in an email that the state is seeking a dismissal “for lack of standing and failure to state a claim.”

The seven-page motion, written by Senior Assistant Attorney General Christopher Aslin, argues Slepian did not claim any personal injury or harm and also did not challenge any specific spending by Fish and Game.

“Ms. Slepian repeatedly asserts that the Fish and Game Commission does not adequately represent the interests of individuals who are not hunters, anglers, or trappers, but the Petition does not offer any facts showing the expenditure of public funds by NHFG constitutes a violation of the Constitution or any state law or regulation,” Aslin writes in the motion.

Slepian filed an objection to the dismissal motion last week, arguing that according to state laws, she does not need to demonstrate personal harm or injury. She also says the state’s motion misrepresents her arguments and makes “incorrect and dubious legal arguments, and personal attacks on the credibility of the Plaintiff,” the objection states.

No hearings have been scheduled in the case, and the court has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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