With Congress looking for ways to cut the budget, a coalition of conservation groups fear one casualty will be a fund established almost five decades ago to protect forests and the state’s water quality. NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.
New Hampshire depends on its forests for tourism, logging and watershed protection.
A 2010 study by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire forests estimates the state has about 82 percent forest cover.
But that’s a five percent decrease from 1960.
If current development trends continue in the next twenty years the study predicts forest cover will drop to about 78 percent.
Chris Wells is with the Society.
“So, we are basically in the bulls eye in terms of losing private forest land over the next 20 years.”
Losing forests puts water quality at risk.
Susan Arnold is with the Appalachian Mountain Club.
“Forests are the headwaters of the major rivers in New England and without the protection provided to those watersheds by forests our drinking water quality and supply in New England would be severely compromised. So, we are talking about impacts to tens of millions of people.”
A 2009 study by the US Forest Service shows three New Hampshire rivers –the Merrimack, the Contoocook and the Piscataqua-Salmon Falls-are among the 15 nationwide most likely to be affected and suffer a loss of water quality by development of forest land.
With that in mind, 60 groups are behind a new report called “A Policy Agenda for Conserving New England’s Forest. Priorities for 2012.”
The fear is that in an effort to balance the budget, Congress could cut funds normally set aside for conservation.
In particular the groups are worried that the money in the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the affiliated Forest Legacy Program will be used to pay for things other than conservation.
Chris Wells: “It is funded, not from general tax revenue but interestingly enough off-shore oil and gas leasing. That original legislation from 1965 authorized up to $900 million a year of those oil and gas leasing revenues to go to this fund to do primarily land conservation.”
That money is used to buy land for the federal government, purchase conservation easements and protect private working forest from development.
But Congress has often diverted big chunks of those funds to other projects.
“That $900 million a year has only happened once in 45 years. It has been repeatedly used for essentially other purposes, for general government.”
For the new budget President Obama has asked the full $900 million be used.
Congress is now working its way through the budget.
For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen.