Headwaters tract a landmark conservation effort
By Edith Tucker, Coos County Democrat
Nearly six years ago, on Oct. 10, 2003, federal and state officials joined local residents and nonprofit organizations, including The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), at Lake Francis State Park to celebrate the final phase of the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Project.
In a public document-signing ceremony, the State of New Hampshire, through the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED), purchased a conservation easement over 146,400 acres.
(DRED also purchased 100 acres at Deer Mountain Campground and seven acres around the Magalloway fire tower, both in Pittsburg, as well as all of the property's major roads.)
At the same time, Lyme Timber purchased the underlying 146,400-acre tract, subject to the terms of the conservation easement, from the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization that had acted as both a pass-through entity and facilitator of a complex undertaking.
Both DRED Commissioner George Bald and Peter Stein, along with his teen-aged son Willie, were on hand for this important occasion, as well as then-Gov. Craig Benson, project manager David Houghton of TPL, and Burnham “Bing” Judd of Pittsburg.
In 2001, TPL had agreed to buy the property from International Paper, giving time for the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Partnership Task Force, led by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican, to hold public hearings and reach agreement on a vision for the forest’s future.
Local residents, North Country elected officials and leaders, state and federal officials, as well as leaders of nonprofit organizations, served on the Task Force, whose work was bolstered by a hard-working technical committee.
A coalition of stakeholders, outdoor enthusiasts, and conservationists, including TPL, TNC, SPNHF, and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) was able to line up $42 million to compete the project, with funding provided by a number of federal and state programs and foundations, along with scores of contributions from individuals, businesses, and foundations.
When IP announced that it was putting this enormous block of land — 171,500 acres that represented nearly four percent of the state’s land base — up for sale, longtime residents in the northern towns of Coös County, as well as many other Granite State residents, feared that a way of life would be lost and an intact “working” forest — home to wildlife and indigenous plants — would be fragmented and possibly posted or gated to prevent any public access.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) stepped up to the plate in April 2002 and acquired 25,000 acres to establish the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Natural Areas, which includes habitat for migratory songbirds, waterfowl, moose, and other mammals.
Fifteen thousand acres is maintained as a nature preserve, on which trees will be allowed to grow large or to fall and rot in place.
The remaining 10,000 acres is managed for the protection of wildlife.
The land is owned by the state Fish and Game Department.