The Land and Community Heritage Investment Program was enacted by the state legislature with broad bi-partisan support in 2000 for the purpose of providing competitive grants for land conservation and historic preservation projects that permanently protect iconic landscapes and historic structures in the Granite State. The purpose of making these investments is to strengthen the social and natural resource fabric of local communities and to enhance the local and regional economies in the State that depend on tourism.
Since its establishment, LCHIP has awarded 498 grants in 173 communities across the state. Equally noteworthy is how the program can incentivize financial support from other sources. In fact, every dollar from LCHIP leverages $5.75 in additional funding. Furthermore, as you know, tourism and outdoor recreation are key components of New Hampshire’s economic strength. LCHIP’s role in protecting the places which draw tourists here contributes to this vitality. Building on that point is an economic analysis the Trust for Public Land conducted of the return on New Hampshire’s investment in land conservation through a variety of state programs, including LCHIP. This study found that every $1 invested in land conservation returned $11 in natural goods and services to the New Hampshire economy. One notable example of this impact is LCHIP’s grant to permanently conserve one private ownership of 146,100 acres of working forest land, now known as the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Project, in the towns of Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown, at the State’s northern tip.
The original goal was to provide $12 million a year in state funds through LCHIP to leverage at least as much in non-state funds to make these conservation projects possible. However, between 2000 and 2008 general funding for LCHIP was very erratic, and far below that initial goal. As a consequence, the legislature established a dedicated fund for LCHIP in 2008, creating a $25 recording fee on deeds, mortgages and plans at the State’s 10 county registries of deeds. The fee was projected to raise about $6 million a year and was specifically dedicated to the LCHIP fund. Once again, state budget pressures led to legislative diversions of this dedicated fund (from 2009 to 2012) to non-LCHIP purposes. In June 2013 the Governor and Legislature adopted a comprehensive state budget that for the first time left the LCHIP dedicated fund in place, without any raid or diversion. Because of this bi-partisan support, LCHIP was able to award nearly $3.5 million in grants in Fiscal Year 2014-the most it had ever supported in one year.
The Forest Society strongly supports LCHIP, its program goals and its dedicated fund. To conserve the most attractive and vulnerable landscapes and structures, LCHIP funding needs to be consistent and predictable. Landowners and building owners make long term decisions to conserve their assets; projects take months and--in some cases--years to develop. Erratic funding from the State sends exactly the wrong message to the community of land and building owners LCHIP is designed to engage and to the variety of partners involved in developing individual projects. For these reasons, SPNHF continues to strongly advocate for consistency and predictability in the State’s contribution to land and historic structure conservation. We strongly oppose any new raids on the dedicated LCHIP fund.
On September 26, 2019, Governor Sununu signed into law House Bill 3, the operating budget for the State of New Hampshire for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021. HB 3 provides $3.5 million in both years for the program. This strong backing by the Legislature the Governor is the result of the advocacy from the broad network of LCHIP supporters across New Hampshire. Thank you all.
Looking ahead, we will have to continue to be prepared to address any challenges LCHIP may face. For the Forest Society, ensuring the program has the financial resources it needs to fulfill its mission will be a top priority. While the veto of Senate Bill 74 during the 2019 Legislative session was very disappointing, since it would have provided an additional $1.5 million a year for the program, the funding levels for 2020 and 2021 will keep LCHIP stable.
LCHIP Enabling Legislation: RSA 227-M