John Harrigan: Deer yards, 'too cold to snow,' paying for search and rescue, and a bit about a radio show

JOHN HARRIGAN February 02. 2013 9:43PM

Twice during the past three days I've almost hit deer in the road. They're not supposed to be there this time of year, when they're normally crowded into yards. These are places under mature spruce, fir, hemlock or pine, where the deer are somewhat sheltered from wind and snow, and where their well-worn trails give them a chance of escaping coyotes and free-running dogs.

There is a deer yard just below my farm, a small one, which would be called a pocket yard, where perhaps a dozen or so deer hang out in a mild winter, which this one has so far been. They caper back and forth between the Bryant place and a batch of cedars down across Route 145, emerging now and then to drink from Beaver Brook. In a normal winter they would travel to a bigger yard, but we haven't had one of those for a long time now, and are on the verge of being totally confused about what's normal.

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House Speaker Gene Chandler, a frequent visitor to the North Country, is working with a bunch of cohorts on a bill that would charge a flat fee, ranging from $350 to $l,000, for those who become the objects of search and rescue efforts. Those who hold hunting and fishing licenses or register snowmobiles, boats or ATVs are already paying into the system and would be exempt.

This is a first step in addressing a longtime and unfair problem, which is that license and registration holders pay into the search and rescue system, but hikers, climbers and all others who recreate in the great outdoors don't. Further, there is an excise tax on hunting and fishing gear, which comes back to the states for protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat that all others can use and enjoy, but nothing on hiking, climbing, canoeing and camping gear.

Right now, only those who are careless and negligent about basic precautions and preparation can be billed for search and rescue. Thus far, Fish and Game has billed for only 38 missions, and has had a hard time collecting.

I've wondered about individual insurance for hikers and climbers, and whether they ought to be mandated to have it. But who would enforce this, and exactly what is a hike? A family trip in to view Glen Ellis Falls or Beaver Brook Falls is a family walk, not a hike. Equally fuzzy is what constitutes a climb.

Gene is a fun and thoughtful guy who, once he sets his sights on something, goes for it like the Hound of the Baskervilles. He's aware of the complexities of this issue and knows that this bill is just a start. But I've had 44 years (and counting) of writing about the total unfairness of the current search and rescue system, and I hope something comes from this.

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When I used the "too cold to snow" phrase last week I knew I'd get a snow-flurry of mail on it, and I did. When I picked up my Sunday News at LaPerle's IGA last weekend and turned to Page Two, I hit myself on the head and said "You dumb French-Irish lout," or something like that. I should have added the qualifier "in most places except places like Antarctica, the Arctic, and the top of Mount Washington." I've visited two out of the three, and know better.

But the mail, as always, was in good humor and fun to read.

Michael Jacobs, in Stewartstown, wrote:

"John, it is currently minus 4 degrees and snowing up here on Big Diamond Pond. I have a Davis Pro weather station and report directly to WMUR TV as a weather spotter, and also to the National Weather Service. You might speak with the pros on top of the rock pile and get their views on snow below zero.

"I finally subscribed to the e-edition of the News and Sentinel, and with that and the New Hampshire Sunday News I now enjoy your column twice each week. Keep it coming."

Ric Werme wrote:

"Oh boy - finally a question this south-of-the-notches reader can help with.

"The short answer is that the colder the air, the less water vapor it can hold. Hence, when the water content is wrung out as snow, there's less snow than at near-freezing temperatures. The longer answer is that the maximum water vapor pressure in air (another way of measuring water content), declines with temperature.

A storm full of freezing air can produce six times the snow than a storm full of sub-zero degree air. Conversely, a wood stove heating subzero air up to something comfortable makes for some really dry air - that's why there's a rusty cast iron tea kettle on the stove."

John Henry of Weare wrote:

"Not true. It may be more difficult because the air is drier but it is never too cold to snow.

"I lived in the Antarctic for more than a year during the early days of exploration in the late fifties and experienced low temperatures much colder than the northern parts of NH has ever seen and it snowed. The lowest temperature ever recorded is -128.6 F and was recorded in the Antarctic. That's thermometer temperature, not wind chill. The snow and ice there is more that 10,000 feet deep in some places.

"It's never too cold to snow."


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And here's a note from Jack Heath:

"It may be good to remind your readers at the end of this week's column about you being on the show, and letting them know they are welcome to call in."

Right. I'm on WTPL with Jack every Friday afternoon, doing the show by phone from my kitchen counter. The show is "New Hampshire Today," on 107.7FM WTPL, and I go on at 4:10 p.m.

I love the banter and give and take of the show, and heartily invite listeners to call in at 866-823-1077.

John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook NH 03576, or

John Harrigan

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