New England briefs

Northern New England starved for snow this winter

Near the Canadian border, residents are used to bone-shivering cold and knee-deep snow this time of year. Those are considered good things because the economy is heavily dependent on winter outdoor activities like snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

But this winter has been so mild that organizers of Saturday's Winter Family Fun Day at Aroostook State Park had to cancel the event because of a lack of snow.

Northern Maine is usually covered by about a foot-and-a-half of snow, but there were bare spots this week after the temperature climbed to the upper 40s.

"So far it's been the warmest winter on record in Caribou — by a couple of degrees. It's been an unusually warm winter," said Corey Bogel, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Caribou, where official weather records are kept.

Caribou normally should have recorded 75 inches of snow by this time of the year, Bogel said. Instead, there's been only 53 inches.

It's a common refrain this winter in northern New England.

Mild weather caused thin ice that led to the cancellation of many fishing derbies. And the National Toboggan Championships in Camden, Maine, had to be shortened and moved because of unsafe conditions on Hosmer Pond, where the toboggans come to a stop after roaring down a chute.

In Vermont, an organization aimed at getting women and girls involved in outdoors activities canceled a snowshoeing and cross-country skiing event Sunday at Prospect Mountain.

In northern New Hampshire, poor snow conditions led to the cancellation of an annual fundraising event in the North Country that draws thousands of people to test ride snow machines.

The event at Coleman State Park in Stewartstown, which had been scheduled for March 4-5, needs at least 2 feet of snow for safe riding. Organizers said they had only 4 to 5 inches.

In Greenville, Maine, the Wilderness Sled Dog Race was postponed from Feb. 6 until Feb. 27 because rain and warm temperatures left trails bare.

Amy Dugan said organizers are counting on a storm projected for midweek to restore some of the lost snow. "It has not been a good winter, that's for sure," she said, pointing to icy trails and local lodging vacancies. "It's quite the bummer."

Bill would bar job application question on criminal history

A Vermont House committee this week is set to take up legislation that would bar employers from asking about a job seeker's criminal history on an initial job application. The question could be asked in an interview, and criminal background checks before hiring still would be allowed.

"The goal of the legislation is to require employers not to ask (about a criminal record) on the initial employment application," said Suzi Wizowaty, a leader of the group Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform.

"This is a good bill because it lets people get in the door," she added.

Many employers currently ask applicants on the initial application if they have ever been convicted of a crime. Advocates for former inmates say the tendency for employers is to automatically exclude anyone with a conviction as they decide who will be brought in for an interview.

The result is "a permanent class of unemployable citizens," Wizowaty said.

Some 19 other states have passed similar "ban the box" legislation, and Gov. Peter Shumlin last year issued an executive order barring the question from the initial job application for most state positions.

The National Employment Law Project has been pushing for states to pass such laws around the country.

Exceptions to the law would cover employers required by other laws not to employ people who have been convicted of certain crimes.

The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs is taking testimony on the bill on Tuesday and Thursday.

300 plus dairy farmers, ag leaders expected at conference

More than 300 dairy farmers and agricultural leaders from New England and New York are expected to gather this week for the annual conference for dairy producers being held in Burlington, Vermont.

Among the topics to be discussed Tuesday are tactics for a sustainable future, animal care, and training the next generation.

The conference takes place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel & Conference Center.

The Vermont Dairy Producers Conference was founded in 1999 and organized by farmers.

Maine's high court to rule on state's role in bear hunt vote

State wildlife regulators and a hunting reform group are awaiting a ruling from Maine's highest court on a lawsuit stemming from a defeated proposal to change the bear hunt.

Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting hoped to ban the use of bait, dogs and traps to hunt bears, but voters rejected the idea at the polls in November 2014. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife campaigned against the changes.

The group sued to prohibit the state's campaigning and maintains the state's campaign activities were illegal. A state superior court dismissed the lawsuit as moot after the election and Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting appealed.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in the case on Feb. 10. The two sides are now awaiting a ruling, which could take months.

– The Associated Press


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