NH Forest Society Evaluates 2009 Town Meeting Results

Voters at town meetings across New Hampshire this year continued to support land conservation, but at greatly diminished funding levels. This year, 17 communities appropriated a total of $268,038 to conserve land in their towns, according to a survey conducted by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Those towns in the Kearsarge-Sunapee area included: Sunapee ($15,000), Grantham ($20,000), Warner ($30,000) and Cornish ($4,500). The other towns were: Alstead, Erroll, Francestown, Groton, Harrisville, Holderness, Jaffrey, Lee, Lyme, Plaistow, Rumney, Sullivan and Swanzey. Of the articles that passed, the average amount appropriated was a modest $21,000.

The towns of Bradford, Fitzwilliam, Newington and Windham voted down conservation appropriations. One high profile project that did not receive funding was the 148-acre Battles Farm in Bradford. Voters there rejected a petition to appropriate $96,000 to purchase on a conservation easement on the historic working farm, which also features important wildlife habitat and iconic views.

One of the more innovative resolutions in support of local conservation efforts was put forward in New Durham, where 116 out of 150 town meeting attendees voted to authorize the board of selectmen to vigorously pursue the permanent conservation of a 2,000-acre property overlooking Merrymeeting Lake. The “vigorous pursuit” was to include the submission by the select board of a warrant article to the 2010 town meeting asking voters to raise and appropriate an amount not to exceed $1 million toward the purchase of the property. New Durham Selectman Ron Gehl explained that a vote of support for the resolution could improve the town’s chances of securing additional funding for the project through state and federal grants.

Although the overall success rate for conservation funding articles was 82 percent, the amount of money approved was greatly reduced from the conservation appropriations of previous years. In 2008 the total amount requested across the state was $4.7 million, of which $2.4 million was approved. In 2007 $3.8 million was approved out of $8 million requested. The highest amount ever appropriated in a given year was $35.6 million in 2003.

According to Forest Society Policy Director Chris Wells, the downward trend isn’t surprising, given the amount of funding approved earlier this decade and the current financial climate.

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