HAMPTON FALLS — Scarlet flapped her wings as Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill Friday making the red-tailed hawk New Hampshire’s official state raptor.
The signing was held at Lincoln Akerman School, where seven fourth-graders first began their campaign to designate the hawk as the state raptor.
It was an endeavor that initially saw defeat when lawmakers rejected the first bill in 2015, but the students revived their effort last year and convinced legislators to pass House Bill 280.
“This journey has been all about these students and getting this done,” Sununu said before signing the bill surrounded by those students, who will head off to high school in the fall, and Scarlet, a red-tailed hawk owned by Auburn resident Rita Tulloh, a member of The New Hampshire Falconers Association.
Several legislators attended the bill signing to congratulate the students for their determination to get the bill passed.
The students involved were Addie Kinnaly, Andrew Kriner, Casey Coleman, Daniel Blankenship, Grace Vander Els, Joseph O’Connor and Maia Delano.
They didn’t quit despite the criticism they faced in 2015 that made national headlines when then-Rep. Warren Groen, R-Rochester, compared the red-tailed hawk hunt to an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic and Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, who complained that if bills like this continued to come before the Legislature the state would eventually be picking a “state hot dog.”
The students said they learned some important lessons over the past few years.
“This experience has taught us to always persevere and do our best,” Vander Els said.
Kinnaly thanked the many people who stood by them during their fight.
“Throughout the four-year journey there have been so many people that have supported us and we really wouldn’t be where we (are) right now if it weren’t for people like Mr. Cutting, the House members and senators that supported us, our parents and everybody else. We’re thankful and grateful for everyone and everything that’s happened during this journey,” she said.
Jim Cutting, the teacher who worked with the students, congratulated them on their accomplishment.
He recalled how the students were challenged when they first proposed the idea and how they learned about rejection and gained confidence.
“The resurrection of the red-tailed hawk bill in December of 2018 brought new energy. With the encouragement of legislators, educators and parents, this group contemplated another red-tailed hawk exploration. They learned more about this majestic bird and supported their bill eloquently with persistence and conviction,” Cutting said.
State Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, who co-sponsored the bill, recalled his first meeting with the students five years ago and how he never thought it would take so long for the students to succeed.
He called the signing a “redemption moment” for the students.
“From this day forward, what visitors to the New Hampshire State House are going to learn is they’re going to learn the story of the red-tailed hawk. They’re going to learn the story of a group of fourth-graders who eventually became eighth-graders and helped leave a legacy, leave a mark, on the history of the state of New Hampshire that’s actually quite unique,” he said.