Let's stop overreaching land conservation

Balance is needed when it comes to preserving land in northern New Hampshire

Those of us who live in northern New Hampshire place great value on the land and the environment that surround us. Many of us also value efforts to conserve unique areas and places of great natural beauty to ensure they are preserved for our benefit and the benefit of future generations.

However, when the government or private land conservation organizations move away from protecting unique places, and instead focus on amassing as much land as possible, great burdens are shifted onto the taxpayers and remaining private landowners in the region.

These burdens can be many. When government purchases land, these properties are essentially removed from the tax base, and the costs of local government services are levied onto a smaller and smaller group of people. In turn, this creates pressure to increase taxes on those remaining private landowners.

Consider the efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to control land around Umbagog Lake. Initially, the federal agency said it planned to preserve 1,600 acres. Now, 20 years later, the government’s control extends to more than 76,000 acres.

In addition to the efforts of the federal government, private land conservation groups are also aggressively pursuing efforts to “lock up” as much land as possible. One particular environmental group has established a goal of conserving 40 percent of the state of New Hampshire. While in aggregate that would seem laudable, it appears that most of this goal will be achieved by restricting land in Coos County.

Restrictions on these conserved lands can do more than impact local property taxes. Federally protected lands typically place restrictions on timber harvesting, to the detriment of our forestry industry, jobs and timber tax revenues to local communities.

Another important consideration is the impact that overreaching land conservation ultimately puts on our ability to rebuild our local economy. As land is restricted and development is confined to smaller and smaller areas, options for development are eliminated and greater pressure is placed on those areas that remain open to development.

Whether you oppose or support the Northern Pass project, it is clear that the extensive acreage under conservation in Coos County, and the limitation on development on these lands, dictated the location of the project’s proposed initial route into areas of greater impact on private landowners and communities. Allowing these types of development projects to consider the use of conserved land — areas such as Nash Stream, the Connecticut headwaters or other public lands — would take many of these burdens off private landowners and allow development away from areas with greater concentrations of people and homes.

Moving forward, it is critical that New Hampshire and Coos County develop a plan that requires balance between ongoing land conservation efforts and the need to rebuild our economy and provide jobs and economic opportunity for citizens now and into the future. Without balance, the costs will only become greater for North Country landowners and taxpayers.

John Gallus of Berlin represents District 1 in the New Hampshire Senate.

Categories: Opinion