Fish & Game short on labor as director announces departure, many retiring

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A search and rescue team in action. Courtesy/NH Fish & Game Dept.

CONCORD, NH– The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is heading into its busiest hunting and hiking season with a lot of unfilled positions.

On Monday the department also announced that its director since 2008, Glenn Normandeau, has decided to step down from the position at the end of his term in March 2020.

Normandeau, who is at an all-week conference, was not available for comment Monday. He is the second-longest serving executive director in the department’s 150-year history, which also was a position held by his father, Dr. Donald Normandeau.

Fish and Game Col. Kevin Jordan said that while it is not a crisis yet, he is looking at a labor shortage.

An injury or illness among his men and women in the Law Enforcement Division could make it difficult to protect the state’s resources and respond to outdoor emergencies in a timely manner, he acknowledged.|

Of the 42 sworn positions, he has eight openings right now, six of which are unfunded.

Jordan said he is hoping to fill three conservation officer positions soon, but those recruits will be going into training throughout the state for the next year.

A crew filming “North Woods Law” tagged along for a report of a bear on Kimball Street in Manchester back in June of 2018. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings, frameofmindphoto.com .

He said one recruiting tool that may be helping the department, though not immediately translating into recruits, is a television series called North Woods Law, created by Engle Entertainment and sold to the Animal Planet, which is on cable television on Sunday nights.

This reality show is based primarily on the work of his conservation officers, the department’s biologists and it showcases the state for the world. As of June, 41 million viewers have seen New Hampshire woods, water, and wildlife through the lens of the show.

Maine agreed to a similar television reality show a few years before New Hampshire and it is now seeing its first recruit to come from the ranks of television viewers, Jordan said.

“It’s a slow process,” Jordan said, but those who are watching the show now and imagining a future and all that the work entails are likely just teenagers.

“That show has put New Hampshire on the map,” Jordan said, noting he hears from people the world-over curious about the logo on the uniform of the Old Man of the Mountain and what it means.

These men and women are sworn officers of the state with a focus on protecting the state’s game, fish and performing search and rescue missions in the mountains and in the water and enforcing OHRV and snowmobiling laws.

Asked if it was a pay issue, he said, “now we are competitive” with other nearby states.

The Wildlife Division, which handles much of the science that helps make informed decisions on hunting and fishing regulations, is also facing a loss with retirements, with several key biologists like Kristine Rines, moose project leader, retiring as well. John Kanter, who headed the department’s non-game and endangered wildlife division for more than a decade, has moved on to other employment.

“We’ve had a lot to be thankful for these valued people,” who are leaving behind a resource which they helped protect over the years, Jordan noted.

And that wasn’t counting Normandeau’s intended departure.

Normandeau served on the Fish and Game Commission for years before he was tapped for the director’s position.

Jordan himself has 30 years with the department, and many others within the department come and stay for much of their working years. As those men and women leave for retirement, a whole lot of institutional knowledge will be lost, he said.

One area the television show has immediately helped the department, he said, is with legislators who better understand the job and the breadth of the assignment.

A still from the season finale of Animal Planet’s “North Woods Law,” April 9, 2017.

While merchandise sold from the show goes to the non-profit partner of the department, the Wildlife Heritage Fund, that money does not go directly to pay the bills at the department, but instead, a total of $166,815 in grants, were issued which supported the work of the department in 2018. Not all that money came from the show but from local fundraisers.

Now with the leaves changing colors, it is getting into peak hunting season with archery season for deer having started Sept. 15 and going into December and seasons for hiking ramping up with the fall foliage season just beginning. The big show, the firearms season for deer, begins in November.

Jordan noted that supporting the Law Enforcement’s Search and Rescue missions continue to drain the department’s resources.
The department handled 492 search missions last fiscal year, not including 51 drownings and while the recent development of a Hike Safe card has helped the department, the money is just not keeping up with costs.

Two weeks ago, the department was dealing with four rescues almost simultaneously, including one technical rescue in Franconia Notch of a rock climber which required extrication by helicopter.

“It just doesn’t stop,” Jordan said, adding he is concerned about fatigue and injury. “You are just one injury away,” from a major problem within the department, he noted.

Finding the right person to fill the job as a conservation officer is also pretty tough. The skillset ranges dramatically, he said.

A bright note is that more women are getting into hunting and fishing, in part, as a result of its wildly popular Becoming an Outdoorswoman programs. In 1996 when the programs began, women represented only 1 percent of the licensees but now, they represent 12 percent.

The department has a $32 million a year budget and of that only 2.4 percent or $808,000 comes from the state’s general fund, according to its biennial report issued in June.

Most of the money has historically come from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and federal funds and grants.

To review the department’s biennial financial report, visit
https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/about/documents/2019-biennial-report.pdf