CONCORD — Stratford farmer Scott Mason became the new head of the Fish and Game Department on Wednesday over charges from critics that he lacked qualifications for the job and showed a disdain for conservation.
By a 3-1 vote, the Executive Council confirmed Mason as executive director for a term that runs until March 5, 2024. His salary will be $106,700 a year.
The move ends 10 months of uncertainty, after the Fish and Game Commission informed Gov. Chris Sununu that Director Glenn Normandeau did not deserve another term.
Normandeau’s term ended last spring, but he agreed to serve in holdover status until a replacement was named.
During a public hearing last week, past and present Fish and Game commissioners, along with many business leaders, praised Mason as a consensus-builder.
Opponents criticized Mason for having served as a paid advocate for the controversial and since-abandoned Northern Pass transmission line project and also for opposing the creation of a conservation commission in his hometown.
Both Executive Councilors Michael Cryans, D-Hanover, and Russell Prescott, R-Exeter, said they struggled with Sununu’s choice and said they decided to support Mason shortly before Wednesday’s meeting.
Cryans said Mason’s Coos County residency played a role and that he believed Mason would be the first local to take such a major post in state government since the 1970s, when the late Councilor Lyle Hersom of Groveton resigned his seat to become a state liquor commissioner.
“I know I will disappoint some and make others happy, but I think it is the best decision that I can make,” Cryans said. “I wrestled with this decision for a long, long time.”
Cryans said he secured a commitment from Mason to respond to the noise complaints from residents living along state-maintained, all-terrain vehicle trails.
“I do feel there is an undue hardship for people living in those neighborhoods,” Cryans said. “I’d like to see something worked out, and Scott has assured me he will do his very best.
Prescott said Mason demonstrated that he’s committed to the agency’s mission to conserve wildlife resources.
Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, joined with Cryans and Prescott to give Mason the three votes he needed to win confirmation.
Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, said Mason would be a competent choice as commissioner of agriculture, but he had no experience in biology or wildlife management.
“In the end, I think we need to look for a better fit for this very important position in state government,” Pignatelli said.
Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord and a primary candidate for governor, abstained because he had been hired as a lawyer by towns opposing Northern Pass.