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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

New Hampshire Nature Conservancy Purchase

Air Date: Week of

A recent purchase by the New Hampshire chapter of the Nature Conservancy will divide an almost 19,000 acre piece of land into two parcels–-creating an ecological preserve and a working forest. Doug MacPherson of New Hampshire Public Radio reports.


CURWOOD: Not all logging is bad for land conservation. That's the word from the Nature Conservancy. The New Hampshire chapter of the nation's wealthiest environmental organization is buying about nineteen thousand acres of forest land in the northern reaches of the Granite State. The purchase includes a dozen mountains, almost thirty miles of streams, and plenty of spruce fir trees. Some of the land will remain completely untouched. But on the rest of it some trees will be cut under what the conservancy says will be a plan for sustainable harvesting. This way, says the group, both wildlife and human needs will be protected. New Hampshire Public Radio's Doug MacPherson reports.

MAC PHERSON: The deal involves the purchase of about 40 square miles, an area slightly larger than the city of San Francisco. In New Hampshire, The Nature Conservancy is known for buying much smaller parcels of land and setting them aside as ecological preserves. This deal is different. Plans call for dividing the land into two tracts. Slightly more than half will be set aside as a preserve. The rest will be sold to a yet to be named private timber investor. Both parcels will remain open to hikers, hunters, and snowmobiles. Darrell Burtnett, The Nature Conservancy's state director, uses words like "historic" and "unprecedented" to describe the transaction.

BURTNETT: In one deal, we're protecting a natural landscape. We're also ensuring long-term access for recreation. And the third and the newest part is incorporating an intact buffer of working forest.

MAC PHERSON: Darrell Burtnett says the working forest will serve two functions: buffer the preserve from any future commercial development, and help safeguard the local timber industry. Sale of the working forest would be subject to legal restrictions designed to ensure it would be harvested in a sustainable manner. Eric Kingsley, head of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, says the fact that The Nature Conservancy is willing to let any of the land be harvested speaks to the growing acceptance of sustainable forestry.

KINGSLEY: For a long time, there's been a lot of common ground between forest land owners who want to protect and manage the sustainable timber base, and the environmental community that wants to protect a land base. However, only now are we seeing these two coming together in some real practical ways.

MAC PHERSON: Only ten years ago, such an arrangement would have been unthinkable. But today, The Nature Conservancy prides itself on employing what it calls market-based economic solutions to protect habitat. Outside of New Hampshire, there are precedents for the Conservancy's move. In Maine, it recently acquired almost 300 square miles of land along the Upper St. John River. Some of that land will be permanently preserved, but much of it will remain open to logging. Other conservation groups in New Hampshire were not surprised by The Nature Conservancy's announcement. Richard Ober is spokesman for the most powerful conservation group in the state, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest. Mr. Ober says it's important to the long-term conservation of the region that some lands be logged.

OBER: One of the best tools we have to keep New England green is to have land owners have the ability to manage their land, sell some timber off of it, and not be tempted to develop.

MAC PHERSON: State Senator Fred King, who represents New Hampshire's north country, has mixed emotions about The Nature Conservancy's plans.

KING: I guess I'm disappointed that more of the timber won't be available for harvesting. But I believe a lot of it doesn't lend itself to harvesting. It's steep slopes and high elevations, stream frontages, the types of things that need to be protected.

MAC PHERSON: Senator King has two concerns. He hopes The Nature Conservancy will make good on its promise to continue to pay property taxes on the entire parcel, even though the preserve portion is legally exempt. He also hopes the working forest portion will not be so legally tied up by easements that it becomes impractical to cut it. For his part, The Nature Conservancy's Darrell Burtnett says his organization is concerned about the region's economy.

BURTNETT: Part of being a great neighbor is realizing not only what we think is important on the land up there, but what the local community believes is really important.

MAC PHERSON: The Nature Conservancy is scheduled to close on the lands later this month. The group's officials say their mission is to protect biodiversity. They say this latest deal reflects the fact that in New Hampshire and elsewhere, the strategies they employ to carry out that mission are broadening. For Living on Earth, I'm Doug MacPherson.



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