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Kearsarge Regional Elementary School students propose mastodon as official N.H. fossil

Last modified: 12/18/2014 3:45:47 PM
The fourth-graders at Kearsarge Regional Elementary School in Bradford are preparing for a busy winter.

The class is mapping out meetings with legislative committee chairs, penning letters to lawmakers and scheduling testimony at State House hearings, all in the name of the mastodon.

The mammal, similar in appearance to an elephant, walked the Earth more than 11,000 years ago. Last year off the coast of Rye, a woman discovered a mastodon tooth and part of the animal’s jaw.

Now, the now-extinct mammal is pulling together an unlikely group, including the fourth-graders and a state representative from the Seacoast, who together hope to cement the animal into New Hampshire’s history by making it the official state fossil.

“The mastodon can help connect our past with the present,” said one student.

It’s going to be a long road before the proposal becomes law, said Rep. David Borden, a New Castle Democrat who agreed to sponsor the bill. He visited the students last week to walk them through the legislative process and help them come up with a strategy to get the proposal passed in the coming session.

“Everything you want to get done in New Hampshire has to be done with human relations,” he stressed. That means, he said, contacting representatives, testifying at hearings, getting to know committee chairs, sitting in the gallery when a bill is being voted on. “In order to make anything work in New Hampshire, you have to talk and listen,” he told the students, seated around him on the floor of a classroom.

It might be hard to get the full Legislature on board, several students said after hearing Borden’s presentation.

But others voiced optimism. “If we speak up, and tell them positive things, it might convince them,” said student Riley Dunn.

Naming the mastodon a state symbol “may make people more interested in finding out about fossils,” suggested Colby von Kannewurff.

“All of the other surrounding states have (official state) fossils,” added student Lily Cicoria.

Over the past few years, several student groups have successfully lobbied to make additions to New Hampshire’s state symbol repertoire.

In 2006, third- and fourth-graders from Wells Memorial Elementary School in Harrisville lobbied lawmakers to make the pumpkin the state fruit. In 2009, the state adopted the Chinook as the official state dog, after a group of Bedford seventh-graders proposed the idea.

The Bradford students began the process last year, when they were in the third grade learning about fossils.

Teacher Thom Smith, who ran the fossil unit and is spearheading the current effort, said students always ask him why New Hampshire doesn’t have its own official fossil, because Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts all do.

“It comes up pretty much every year,” Smith said. “This year, I asked,‘Do you want to do something about it?’ And they said, ‘Definitely.’ ”

The class chose the mastodon, eliminating other options including the mammoth and brachiopods. Then, the class started contacting legislators. Now, Borden is leading the charge at the State House. “It’s picking up speed,” Smith said.

The Bradford students aren’t the only ones lobbying for a new state symbol. Fourth- and fifth-graders at The Well School in Peterborough are pushing to make the bobcat the official state wild cat. It would be a historic first. No other state in the nation has an official state wild cat, according to the students’ presentation.

Bennington Rep. Jonathan Manley is leading that legislative effort. “There’s a lot of energy that comes in with a bill like this,” he said, adding that the students are also planning to come to Concord to testify at the legislative hearings. “They can put a lot of pressure on their legislators.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)


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