Town meetings face record conservation plans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE        Contact: Dijit Taylor (603) 717-7045
                                                                          Chris Wells (603) 224-9945

March 4, 2004

town meetings face record conservation plans
Nineteen communities to vote on $44 million for land protection

CONCORD – In answer to the rapid growth that’s consuming New Hampshire’s open spaces, small town character and outdoor recreation, voters in 19 communities will consider a record $44 million for land conservation this town meeting season. If all are approved, the total will surpass last year’s record, when 25 communities supported $36 million for conservation.

But at the same time support for conservation is growing, local leaders are concerned about deep cuts in state matching money that has been helping grassroots conservation efforts stretch local dollars even further.

The Land and Community Heritage Investment Program – the state’s first permanent program to protect land, historic sites and cultural assets – was cut nearly 90 percent by the Legislature last year. In recent years, communities have matched every one-dollar in LCHIP grants with nearly five dollars in local money; from taxpayers, private donations and community fundraisers.

“Anyone who travels around New Hampshire can see the impact rapid growth is having on our landscape – and recognize the importance of saving our most cherished open spaces,” said Chris Wells, policy director for the Forest Society. “What’s frustrating is knowing that this local money could go a lot further if the state level-funded LCHIP at $6 million per year. And we’ll never know how many more towns didn’t propose conservation projects this year because they were discouraged by the lack of LCHIP money.”

The majority of communities voting on conservation this year are located in the fast-growing southern half of New Hampshire. The state’s population grew 11.4 percent from 1990 to 2000. From 2000 to 2025, it’s expected to grow by 28 percent, or 350,000 people. And some 85 percent of that growth is expected to occur in Rockingham, Hillsboro, Strafford and Merrimack counties.

“It’s heartening to know that New Hampshire citizens recognize how important protected open spaces are to their communities, and they’re stepping up their efforts to raise money at record levels,” said Dijit Taylor, director of the Forest Society’s Center for Land Conservation Assistance, which helps communities, land trusts and landowners carry out successful conservation projects.

Last year, the Legislature cut LCHIP to $1.5 million in the current biennium. While the total money being proposed at town meetings this year is up, the number of towns proposing new conservation projects is down.

Communities considering conservation spending measures at town meetings this year include: Amherst, Barrington, Candia, Canterbury, Deerfield, Derry, Fremont, Hampton, Hampton Falls, Hancock, Hollis, Hudson, Lee, Meredith, Milford, Mont Vernon, New Castle, Pelham and Plaistow.

Sixteen communities this year are also asking voters to set up dedicated conservation funds with their Land Use Change Tax, or to increase the amount of the tax that already goes to conservation. Landowners pay the tax when they remove their property from “current use” status, typically to develop it. Last year, just six towns made similar adjustments. Statewide, 130 of 234 communities use the tax to support conservation.

The Center for Land Conservation Assistance has been instrumental in helping communities across the state draft and carry out their local conservation measures. The effort is part of the Forest Society’s New Hampshire Everlasting campaign, launched to celebrate the organization’s 100th anniversary in 2001. One of the campaign’s goals is to encourage every community to protect at least 25 percent of its open spaces, by conserving important community lands, water resources, forests, farmlands and wildlife habitat.

 Founded in 1901, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is a 10,000-member, nonprofit organization that has helped protect more than one million acres. Visit www.forestsociety.org for more information, or call (603) 224-9945.

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