Above, Zachary Abrahamsson and Justin Whipple pose with bear at Fish and Game headquarters in Concord Friday after being sworn in as conservation officers. PAULA TRACY photo
PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Change is coming to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department as Executive Director Scott R. Mason of Stratford told InDepthNH.org he will not seek another four-year term when it expires in August 2024.
Mason said he recently informed Gov. Chris Sununu of his plans to move on.
Mason confirmed his decision just after he swore in two new Conservation Officers Friday at Fish and Game Headquarters in Concord.
This begins a process in law (RSA 2006:8,I) where a new leader is nominated by the state’s Fish and Game Commission, which conducts a search, and submits a recommendation to the governor.
The governor, he noted, cannot just go out and make a nomination but he can reject the nominees offered by the commission.
It came after a lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation voiced concern for the amount of pollution the hatcheries discharge into the water, mostly from fish poop.
Mason said his father was a conservation officer on the Seacoast at a time when the state closed its clam flats to commercial use and there were clam shacks all over the seacoast illegally selling.
He has been a longtime wildlife enthusiast but said it is time for him to move on, though he hoped he would be remembered as having helped the department along the past three-plus years.
A dairy farmer from Coos County, Mason is considered the first state department head to be chosen by a governor to lead from that region since the 1970s, he said.
On Friday, with their family members present, Mason swore in Zachary W. Abrahamsson and Justin R. Whipple as the newest members of the law enforcement division.
Both men had their fathers pin their badges on their lapels and began what will be a long year of study at the Police Academy and travel to the various districts around the state to learn the job before they are selected for a particular region.
The two survived an arduous process which tested them intellectually, physically and socially and Abrahamsson and Whipple were among more than 200 candidates for the two vacancies.
Soon, two more will be hired and there is funding for another two officers, now, thanks to the governor, Mason said.
“This is a 10 percent increase in our field force. Four people doesn’t sound like a lot, but that is a 10 percent increase and we only have 44 so it’s huge,” said Mason.
The department enjoyed national and international coverage of what it does due to the television series North Woods Law which ran for 12 years and is still in reruns on the cable channel Animal Planet.
Mason said it “definitely helped with recruitment” and also helped members of the public and the legislature understand the complexity of the role the department plays in keeping New Hampshire the wild and beautiful place that so many enjoy for hunting, fishing and recreating.
Col. Kevin Jordan, head of law enforcement, said the reality series made it a lot more understandable in the halls of the State House. This is for a department that is largely paid for by hunting and fishing licenses. In the past decade the department has had to go to the legislature for additional funds as those registrations have declined.
“We go in there and say ‘we are understaffed and we need more.’ We didn’t need to sell it like we used to,” due in part to the television series, produced by Engle Entertainment until 2019, Jordan said.
The Fish and Game Commission – appointed by the governor and representing each county and one representative from the Seacoast, will meet Dec. 21 and will begin the search process for a new executive director.
The commission essentially ousted the former director, Glenn Normandeau who served from 2008 to 2020.
While a candidate replacement for Normandeau was floated by the commission and rejected by the governor, they agreed on Mason, who was confirmed on a 3-1 vote of the Executive Council in 2020, after a contentious hearing.
Then-councilor Debora Pignatelli, a Democrat, said at Mason’s confirmation hearing that she would not be able to support Mason’s nomination as he didn’t meet the job qualifications. Then-Councilor Mike Cryans, also a Democrat, cast the key vote in support. Then-councilor Andru Volinsky abstained because as an attorney he had worked for intervenors in the controversial Northern Pass project.
Mason had previously worked on behalf of the developer of the failed Northern Pass project to convince landowners to sell their land to Eversource.
The department is guardian of the state’s fish, wildlife and marine resources and works with the public to conserve, manage and protect them and their habitats; inform and educate the public, provide search and rescue operations, handle hunting and fishing law enforcement, boat access, snowmobile assistance and law enforcement and in some cases even rear endangered wildlife species in their habitats. There are seven divisions.
It also rears fish and is in the process of totally overhauling its fish hatcheries, beginning with the one in New Hampton, for which the department received authorization by the Executive Council this week.