Our Turn: Up north, a conservation project worth supporting
Recently we had the honor of hosting Congresswoman Annie Kuster on a tour of the Mahoosuc Gateway/Success Project in Success Township and several forest-dependent businesses that it supports. The Mahoosuc Gateway project is among the highest priorities nationwide for funding from the Forest Legacy Program, a federal-state-private program within the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Funding will ensure that forest management, timber harvesting and public access for recreation will coexist here forever. It will conserve two parcels totaling 24,000 acres of working forest, wildlife habitat, and water resources including the 286-acre Success Pond, regional aquifers, and a myriad of wetlands.
Kuster saw firsthand exactly what working woodlands provide New Hampshire. Coos County’s forests provide recreation, clean air and, most important, jobs and opportunity. Conserving this forest ensures businesses and citizens in Coos County will be guaranteed these benefits forever. The Mahoosuc Gateway project enjoys broad support and is a prime example of the intersection of community interests, conservation, recreation and working forests. Within view of Berlin, the forest is an important source of timber and fiber to sawmills like White Mountain Lumber, and the new Burgess biomass power plant. It is especially unique to have the raw materials in such close proximity to markets. Additionally, it is accessible to major highways, fairly flat – enabling ease of operability – and has rich soils that facilitate forest regeneration.
As important as these forestlands are for forestry jobs and the timber industry, they are also important for outdoor recreation. It includes trailheads and hiking trails leading to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Mahoosuc Range and through Mahoosuc Notch, protecting more than 12 miles of viewshed from the Appalachian Trail. These lands also provide critical wildlife habitat and are home to moose, deer and other species sought by sportsmen and women, and include diverse opportunities for anglers of all kinds. In the wintertime, snow machines, cross-country skiers, and dog mushers share the trail networks just outside Berlin.
One thing has become apparent working on projects across New Hampshire – valuable landscapes bring together a diverse mix of people. This is as true in Berlin as anywhere. Meeting with Kuster and showing her the forest were the mayor of Berlin, an owner of White Mountain Lumber and staff from The Conservation Fund, the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association and the Appalachian Mountain Club. This cross-section of New Hampshire is united by its appreciation for the forests we are all committed to conserving and using.
One thing that makes Forest Legacy so perfect for New Hampshire is that it allows land to stay in private ownership while conserving its most important values through conservation easements. The Forest Legacy program will provide funding so the state can buy an easement on this land, keeping it available for timber harvests, recreation and wildlife viewing, and ensure it will never be developed. Forest Legacy funding comes from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the nation’s most important conservation program. The fund is a nearly 50-year-old law funded through a small percentage of fees generated by offshore oil and gas drilling, meaning that it does not use a dime of taxpayer money.
Unfortunately, the conservation of Success’s forests is at risk. A congressional committee recently proposed eliminating all funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which in turn would kill the Success project.
Fortunately, leaders in Congress like Kuster understand the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Forest Legacy to the Granite State and are working to make sure these successful programs will continue. With her no-nonsense approach to solving complicated problems, we know she will provide leadership in Washington to conserve this important forest for New Hampshire. Working with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and others, we have great confidence that we can complete the Success project with funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Forest Legacy Program this year.
(Jasen Stock is executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association. Nancy Bell is Northeast field representative of The Conservation Fund. Mark Kelley is the principal of White Mountain Lumber in Berlin.)