At Loon Center, Hassan signs lead sinker ban into law

MOULTONBOROUGH — Nearly 100 people crowded the Loon Center yesterday when the Loon Preservation Committee celebrated a victory ending a legislative struggle lasting two decades by hosting Governor Maggie Hassan, who signed a bill prohibiting the use and sale of lead sinkers and jigs in the fresh waters of the state.

Sponsored by Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), Senate Bill 89 closed the remaining loophole in the law prohibiting the use of lead tackle by including jigs weighing less than an ounce. The prohibition, which takes effect on June 1, 2016, does not extend to other fishing gear like lines, spoons, poppers, plugs or flies.

"We have accomplished a great thing," declared Harry Vogel, executive director of the Loon Preservation Committee. Lead fishing tackle, he said, is by far the leading cause of loon deaths and lead jigs have been found in more than half the adult birds killed by ingesting lead. Vogel explained that although long-lived, loons do not begin reproducing until they are six and then breeding pairs raise on average half-a-chick a year. To sustain a robust population, he stressed,"we must keep adults alive."

The first bill to ban lead tackle was introduced in 1994 and six years later New Hampshire became the first state to restrict, but not entirely forbid, the use of lead tackle. "Twenty years is not that long for legislation," Hassan remarked. "Well, a little long."

She thanked all those from the Loon Preservation Committee and New Hampshire Lakes Association as well as the bill's sponsors and advocates for shepherding the legislation through the process and ensuring a unanimous vote in the Senate and convincing majority in the House.

The governor recalled that when she was first elected to the State Senate she served on the Environment Committee, chaired by the late Carl Johnson of Meredith, a mainstay of the Loon Preservation Committee who pressed to close the loophole throughout his seven terms in the Senate. "What Carl taught me, among other things," said Hassan, "was that it's not just about the loons, but about the health of our natural environment." She said that he also led her to understand that protecting the loons was essential to the state's character as a tourist destination and venue for outdoor recreation. "Senate Bill 89," she said, "is the culmination of that work."

Representative Ben Lefebvre (D-Grantham), who steered the bill through the House, said to the roomful of volunteers and well-wishers "the real thanks should go to you folks — the boots on the ground — who sat there for five or six hours and listened to some crazy stuff."

That, Hassan noted, was "democracy, regular citizens letting their voices be heard."