Guest Opinion: Private landowners key to N.H. economy

Thank you to all New Hampshire landowners who maintain open space and share it with the general public and our state.

New Hampshire is the second most heavily forested state in the nation (Maine is No. 1), with a total of 84% of our state covered with trees.

Many private landowners are willing to share their lands for recreation, which has a positive economic impact on our state economy. We open our lands for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, hiking, bird-watching, outdoor photography, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, etc., and we as landowners don’t get paid for any of this.

One great example that illustrates the economic impact in New Hampshire is snowmobiling.

There is a positive partnership between landowners, the state and the U.S. Forest Service that makes it all work. In New Hampshire we have just under 7,000 miles of snowmobile trails that crisscross the landscape of our state. Some 86 percent of all those trails are on lands of private landowners. We may have a small state, but this family sport has a huge economic engine that generates $1.2 billion of economic activity in our state each year.

It is important that our state recognize the private landowners who are willing to share their lands. There are a number of things we must do to maintain this critical balance between private landowners, open space and our state:

• First and foremost is to support current use, which is the glue that keeps open space open. We need to do a better job of educating the general public of the importance of current use in New Hampshire and the many benefits it provides to our state.

• Recognize more private landowners who share their lands with the state and general public. Last year the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails announced their first “Landowner Appreciation Award.” Our family was picked to receive this award, which we deeply appreciate, and we hope this award will be an annual award, as there are many, many landowners that are as deserving as we were. I encourage other state agencies and organizations to recognize landowners who share their lands.

• Our state elected officials, law enforcement and judicial systems need to become more involved in preventing vandalism on private lands. There are only a few vandals who are creating a huge problem for private landowners in New Hampshire, but those few are about to destroy the privilege of using our lands for the general public who are conscientious and do take care of it.

As a private forest landowner who owns, manages and shares 2,800 acres, I would like to encourage other landowners to do the same. It can be frustrating at times because of a few bad apples, but it can also be extremely rewarding when a hunter who asked permission to hunt on your land, gets a deer and drops off some venison, or when you get letters from snowmobilers who enjoy your trails, a phone call from a hiker thanking you for the privilege of hiking your trails and viewing the wildlife, wildflowers, scenic views or just the peace and quiet as they walk in our woods, or letters from school students thanking us for the educational tour on our tree farm.

It is because of these people that I will work hard to keep my land open, as we enjoy sharing it with them.

There is a direct correlation between New Hampshire’s open space and private forest landowners with our state’s No. 1 industry, tourism. Let us all work together to maintain this important relationship, which has economic, as well as many other benefits, for our state.

Thomas Thomson is a landowner and tree farmer in Orford.

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