My Turn: A threatened natural treasure

For the Monitor
Published: 2/25/2022 6:00:42 AM
Modified: 2/25/2022 6:00:21 AM

Each year, thousands of people visit Lake Tarleton in Piermont and Warren to boat, fish, swim, hike, camp, ski, snowshoe and bird watch in this spectacular natural environment, a true gem of the White Mountains and the largest lake in the White Mountain National Forest.

This treasured area encompassing Lake Tarleton and sister Lake Katherine is too ecologically valuable to jeopardize with road building, heavy machinery and nearly 900 acres of logging, some of which will happen within 100-feet of the shore.

But this is exactly the future the Pemigewasset Ranger District of the White Mountain National Forest has envisioned for it in the proposed Tarleton Integrated Resource Project.

This project puts a long history of community-led conservation at risk. In 1994, developers proposed a massive resort surrounding Lake Tarleton. The proposal inspired a multi-year conservation effort to preserve Lake Tarleton and the surrounding landscape in its natural state. A dozen organizations, 600 individuals and businesses, the State of New Hampshire and the U.S. Congress worked in partnership to raise $7.5 million to purchase 5,300 acres around the lake, securing public ownership forever as part of the nearly one-million-acre White Mountain National Forest.

Conservation partners gathered to celebrate the protection effort in August 2000. At the ceremony, Sen. Judd Gregg commented, “Many of us here today have worked hard for a number of years to reach the point we are at today where we can proudly say that this pristine New Hampshire wilderness has been saved.”

Twenty-two years have elapsed since this “pristine New Hampshire wilderness” was transferred to public ownership. Has the Forest Service forgotten why these lands and waters were so important to protect, and how much they mean environmentally, historically and recreationally to the surrounding community?

A project decision was slated for early 2022, but due to public outcry, implementation has been delayed and the Forest Service will soon open one final public comment period (as of this writing, the date is still to be determined).

The Granite State is home to many treasures that are best left as nature intended, such as the Franconia Range, the Presidentials, and the Great Gulf Wilderness, to name a few. Lake Tarleton and surrounding wildlands along the Appalachian Trail corridor are another such place.

Lake Tarleton provides habitats for loons, eagles and osprey that feast on rainbow, brown and lake trout. Many warblers, thrush, and boreal bird species breed in the surrounding forest each spring and summer and depend on large blocks of intact, interior forest for their survival. Meanwhile, the four-season recreation opportunities afforded by the lake are essential components of both state and local rural economies.

The U.S. Forest Service’s founding motto implores us to manage our public forests for the benefit of “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.”

In their own evaluation of the Tarleton Project, “The temporal scope for indirect effects is on the order of several decades to centuries because that is how long it can take for forested stands to provide similar habitat structure post-harvest compared to pre-harvest.”

There is nothing like a crisis to spur overdue action. Lake Tarleton and surrounding forests and wetlands have long deserved permanent protection. It is a treasure for all New Hampshire residents and visitors that should not be managed as a working forest or for other economic reasons. It is the public’s land. And yet, the threat of development and degradation continues to rear its head against the will of the public.

The Forest Service made a wise decision to pause project implementation and seek additional public input. The Lake Tarleton Coalition and citizen supporters from around the region request that Forest Supervisor Derek Ibarguen, District Ranger Brooke Brown, and the New Hampshire Congressional Delegation work with the public to craft a brighter future for this iconic landscape.

(Elaine Faletra is a member of the Lake Tarleton Coalition. )

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