There’s a plan for a huge increase in the conservation land around Errol in the North Country. The first land should be purchased Wednesday. NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.
Sound of walking.
It takes a few, sometimes squishy minutes and we’re there.
“So, this is Round Pond. It’s got nesting loons, it’s got a fishery that is stocked by New Hampshire Fish and Game and it is a lovely spot.”
That’s J.T. Horn. He’s with The Trust for Public Land.
The Trust has been coordinating the Androscoggin Headwaters Conservation Project.
The idea is to conserve land near Errol and the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge.
A lot of land.
Umbagog has about 26,000 acres.
But the five-part project aims to preserve another 31,000 acres.
So, from a conservation standpoint that is a big deal.
The are several goals. They include:
Keeping the land free of development.
Allowing much of it to be used for sustainable logging.
Encouraging tourism and recreation.
The first part of the plan is expected to be completed on Wednesday.
It is the purchase of 2,910 acres for about $3.2 million.
It includes four undeveloped ponds.
For years the 31,000 acres has been owned by The Plum Creek Timber Company.
It is a real estate investment trust. Nationwide it owns 6.8 million acres of land, all in timber-producing regions.
But sometimes Plum Creek goes outside the timber business. In Maine it has been working on a huge and controversial resort at Moosehead Lake.
Some say it would be the largest development ever in Maine.
Protecting the land in New Hampshire from such a development was a concern, said Charles Kurtz, an Errol resident.
“A lot of this land is going to be able to be used for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, hiking, whatever and it is important to the economy here.”
The land is also worth protecting for other reasons.
“In the 26 million acre Northern Forest this area is unique in its assemblage of habitats.”
That’s Ian Drew. He is Deputy Refuge Manager at Umbagog.
The second phase of the project is a conservation easement on about 10,200 acres.
It would cost about $4.1 million.
The goal is to have that deal go through by the end of this year.
It is estimated the five-phase project will cost $19 million.
The Trust needs to raise about $2.5 million in private funds. But the rest of it would come from the feds.
Sometimes getting those federal dollars is tricky.
Congress’ inability to pass the budget on time last year jeopardized the project.
The problem was that the deal with Plum Creek required those first 2,900 acres to be purchased by the end of 2010.
As the fall went on it became clear that the federal funds would not be available in time.
So, the Trust for Public Land decided the project was important enough it would take a big chance: It bought the land and held its non-profit breath.
“We did take a big risk in buying this property and we are very pleased that the Congress came through the New Hampshire Congressional delegation found the money to make sure we didn’t lose our shirt on this deal.”
The deal is expected to close on Wednesday with the feds buying that land from the Public Trust.
Then the project moves on to the next phase.
The goal is to have all 31,000 acres protected by the end of 2012.