Hanover Bears  Still Mired  In Politics

  • A sow and her three yearlings roam near the Welch's home in Hanover, N.H., in May 2017. (Debra Jayne photograph)

Concord Monitor
Published: 6/5/2017 12:21:30 AM
Modified: 6/6/2017 5:17:46 PM

Concord — Republicans at the Statehouse are all about local control and property rights. But a selectman in Pittsburg says he was never consulted, or even alerted, when Hanover’s nuisance bears recently pardoned by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu were shipped into town.

“It’s frustrating,” said Richard Judd, whose sentiment was echoed more bluntly by a lawmaker who represents the sparsely populated northern most part of the state.

“I don’t appreciate the North Country being a dumping ground. We’re not collecting rabid skunks in the North Country and dumping them in Newfields,” said Democratic Sen. Jeff Woodburn, referencing Sununu’s hometown.

Sununu scored political points when he overrode state wildlife officials’ plan to kill a mother bear and her three yearlings because they had broken into a Hanover home. Instead, he ordered them trapped and released in Pittsburg, N.H., and earned glowing headlines in the process. “How New Hampshire’s governor saved 4 bears from near-certain death,” read one story on Boston.com. But his win came at the expense of Pittsburg and the state’s Fish and Game Department, which has been inundated with public comments, including some threatening messages like the staff “ought to be disposed of.”

Executive Director Glenn Normandeau won’t let the department’s bear biologist appear on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange this week. “It’s become a major political issue that has got nothing to do with the bears, we are just not commenting,” he said.

Judd doesn’t mind giving the problem bears another chance, but he wonders, must they all come to Pittsburg? He notices bear crates being driven into town by Fish and Game vehicles almost once a month, he said. “The wardens deal with them pretty good, but still we don’t need every problem bear in the state.”

Animal issues often become high-profile in New Hampshire. Just last year, hundreds of residents showed up at public hearings to oppose a bobcat hunting season. The current bear saga isn’t over yet.

Fish and Game is still trying to track down the mother, the only remaining family member yet to be caught.

“It’s been an all consuming program and it really has worn out the crew. This is one of 500-700 bear calls we will deal with,” Normandeau said. The department has policies to destroy bears only in the most serious cases, when the animals have lost their fear of humans and pose potential safety threats. This specific family had been roaming a Hanover neighborhood for months, before two of the bears got into a house that had children inside, according to news reports.

Normandeau said it remains to be seen whether the recent stay of execution will change department policies going forward. The Fish and Game Commission meets June 14 and several members said they plan to talk about the issue.

Meanwhile, the three yearlings are tagged and wandering Northern New Hampshire. Experts say they likely will find a new range or try to return home to Hanover. In that case, the bears will test Sununu and the public’s patience for second chances.

Also at the Statehouse

The opioid crisis is one of the state’s most pressing problems. So why did millions of dollars earmarked to tackle the problem this year go unspent?

Lawmakers, policy leaders and state officials are trying to figure that out, and in the process, are pointing fingers in every direction.

Answers are not forthcoming. Depending on who you ask, the amount of leftover dollars in the so-called “alcohol fund” ranges from $2 million to over $4 million.

The fund, which covers addiction treatment, recovery and prevention, has been at the center of heated legislative funding battles in recent years.

Now, Senate budget writers say the leftover dollars are reason to make major changes, including diverting fund money to cover expenses and capital costs at the state’s juvenile detention center. The budget calls for the alcohol-fund to pay for retrofitting part of the Sununu Youth Services Center into drug treatment for minors.

“We need to have some frank talk, it’s pathetic that there is $4.3 million of money we have appropriated sitting in an account, unexpended in the middle of a heroin crisis,” said Senate Majority leader Jeb Bradley last week during budget debate. “That is outrageous.”

But members of the governor’s commission that oversee the fund say it’s not unusual to have leftover money, because contractors can’t always spend all they get. Any extra money is rolled into the next year’s expenditures. Some were surprised, however, to hear the leftover could be double the $2 million they had thought.

“It’s $2 million,” said Democratic Sen. Martha Hennessey, who questioned why no senators had picked up the phone and called someone on the commission to ask. “I don’t get why there is such enormous defensiveness and anger when maybe that should be directed at the governor and (health and human services).”

Those parties are mum at the moment. A spokesman for HHS said the department is currently preparing information to give budget writers next and will be releasing it publicly then.

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