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Editorial: Work of Five Rivers benefits all

The coming of age of Five Rivers Conservation Trust, the land preservation organization that began life as the Concord Conservation Trust in 1998, is a milestone worth celebrating. The trust oversees conservation easements on land in Concord and 15 towns in the watersheds of the Blackwater, Warner, Merrimack, Soucook and Warner rivers.

The trust’s holdings have grown rapidly. More than 50 easements covering 1,873 acres became more than volunteers and a part-time director could monitor.

For people in Concord and its environs, that’s a wonderful problem to have. This month, the trust hired its first full-time executive director, Beth McGuinn, the subject of a profile in Tuesday’s Monitor by reporter Allie Morris. We welcome her.

Land conserved by conservation easement has tremendous value. In a sense, that value can be measured in dollars, as economists did to create a recent report for the Trust for Public Lands, a national organization that steps in to protect sensitive lands long enough for local organizations to raise the money necessary to preserve them. Every dollar spent to protect New Hampshire land returns $11 to the economy in the form of reduced services, increased revenue from recreation, and improved health and jobs dependent on natural resources, the economists said.

Not long ago, it was common to hear people bemoan the lost property tax revenue when land is preserved instead of developed. Now, not so much. People in the state with the biggest reliance on property taxes of anywhere in the nation understand that land developed for housing costs taxpayers $1.12 for every dollar the new property pays in taxes. Conservation land is, if you will, a money-maker. On average, the cost per dollar of taxes paid is 56 cents.

The true value of preserving, rather than developing, land can’t be determined. What price, after all, should be put on the sight of a bobcat? What’s it worth to hear owls at night instead of sirens? How can one truly value the healing power of looking at nature, let alone walking in it? People who sacrifice financially to sell or donate a conservation easement each do the math their own way.

Five Rivers nearly doubled the properties under easement, from 36 to 61, over the past four years under its part-time director, Jay Haines. The organization also amassed a war chest, of sorts. It has $400,000 in a trust to defray the cost of monitoring conservation easements and insurance to cover bigger expenses if necessary. Easements, if unmonitored, tend to be ignored or infringed upon by abutters. That won’t happen with land overseen by Five Rivers.

A demographic wave has begun breaking. Members of the baby boom generation, those born from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s, have begun to think of the legacy they will leave. When it comes to land, they should look to some of their elders for guidance. Their names can be found on the list of properties overseen by Five Rivers: Winant Park, Marjory Swope Park, and easements named Fournier, Foss, Butterworth, Clark, Watman and more.

We encourage anyone who owns and loves a piece of undeveloped land to contact Five Rivers or the local land trust covering their town to learn how to protect it for as close to perpetuity as possible. One needn’t own land, however, to play a part in keeping New Hampshire open, beautiful and livable for coming generations. Five Rivers needs volunteers and donations to increase the trust’s ability to protect more threatened lands. Much has been done, but the future of much of what deserves preservation remains insecure.

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