Our Turn: Towering trees, not transmission towers
New Hampshire’s forests, lakes and scenic landscapes are central to our state’s identity. They are critical to our state’s traditional tourism and logging industries. They provide hunters, fishermen, campers and hikers with recreational opportunities. They provide New Hampshire citizens a sense of place. And their natural beauty is awe-inspiring.
All of us have a responsibility to protect our natural resources, particularly in the North Country where commercial and industrial development could jeopardize some our state’s most treasured natural resources.
Twelve years ago, the two of us set up a task force that identified a way to protect these lands and today, we need to renew our commitment to protecting New Hampshire’s unspoiled beauty.
The Connecticut River headwaters lands cover many of New Hampshire’s most scenic areas. From the forested hills surrounding Lake Francis and the Connecticut Lakes, to the rushing waters of Indian Stream Gorge, these areas are precious.
They are home to many noted New Hampshire species including loons, bald eagles, osprey and pine martens and offer some of the best hiking in Northern New England.
In addition to their beauty, these lands are the backbone of our northern economy, offering working forests that have supported New Hampshire families for generations.
In 2001, the two of us came together to protect these treasures when International Paper Co. announced plans to sell its timber ownership of 171,000 acres of land in Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown, including the headwaters of the Connecticut River. We created and co-chaired the Connecticut Headwaters Partnership Task Force, a broad coalition of community and business leaders, state and federal officials, private nonprofit organizations and other interested parties, to create a future for the land that would reflect the best interests of our citizens, economy and quality of life.
This group developed a comprehensive, consensus-based plan to purchase and maintain the land’s traditional uses so it could be used for forestry, hunting, snowmobiling and other recreational activities. The plan also protected the largest un-fragmented block of land in the state, providing critical natural habitat for moose, deer and other wildlife.
This group’s collaborative nature and commonsense approach showcased some of our state’s best attributes. And it underscored what we can accomplish when we work in a bipartisan way with an eye on a common goal. As a result of this effort, the state now holds a conservation easement on 146,000 acres of these lands, with the land itself remaining in private ownership subject to the terms of the easement. With these property rights comes a responsibility to steward the area for generations to come in partnership with the private landowner.
This includes an obligation by the state to defend the easement from encroachment by
inappropriate uses or users.
The easement was designed to protect these lands from commercial or industrial development that is unrelated to the traditional land uses of forestry and outdoor recreation.
But recent land purchases by Northern Pass project developers suggest that a potential route for transmission towers and lines may attempt to cross land protected by the Connecticut Headwaters easement.
That would unnecessarily jeopardize some our state’s most treasured land.
When we worked together in 2001 and 2002 to protect this land, we imagined towering trees protected for future generations, not transmission towers.
We believe the state has a responsibility to actively protect these lands for our children and grandchildren.
(Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator. Republican Judd Gregg is a former U.S. senator from New Hampshire. Both are also former governors.)