I haven’t seen the inside of an elementary school in years until Melanie and I volunteered as scribes for The Conservation Fund (TCF) at the Holderness Central School last Wednesday. The two of us, Melanie and Jamie, along with June from the Center for the Environment volunteered to help TCF in its efforts to assess community interests in a local land conservation project and to learn more about the conservation process. TCF is a national non-profit land trust with over 7 million acres protected in 50 states. They act as a sort of broker, purchasing tracts of land for protection from development and for multiple-use purposes, then partnering with other organizations who will may hold the conservation easements. TCF frequently utilizes Community Forums to engage public participation and foster local support for their work.
With staff from the Squam Lakes Conservation Society (SLCS), we helped TCF in its efforts to assess community views regarding the recent purchase of the Beebe River Tract, over 5,000 acres abutting the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) in the Towns of Campton and Sandwich. SLCS was particularly interested in co-hosting the event because the Tract fills a large gap in protected lands just beyond the Squam Lake watershed.
As scribes we were responsible for listening to and recording the responses of local residents to questions asked by the Forum’s facilitator, Nancy Bell. With over 20 years of experience, Nancy is TCF’s Vermont Representative and has helped protect at least 500,000 acres in the Northeast – certainly no small feat! Each question for the residents was designed to stimulate conversation about the personal connections that each person has or would like to have with the Beebe River Tract, and to gain insight into their ideas for the future management of the property. For example, the first question poignantly asked, “What do you love about these lands?”
Listening to the opinions of people who are interested in the conservation and management of the Beebe River Tract was very enlightening. At our table, there were interesting comments on wildlife corridors, hiking trail development, remote fly-fishing, and invasive plant and insect species management. One surprising issue was a disagreement over whether the land should be included as part of the WMNF. Some were in support of it becoming part of a larger natural resource, while others objected to its integration on the fact that it could be used for multiple purposes and possibly logged in the future. A suggested compromise was the designation of wilderness areas where no logging and only light recreation would be allowed.
Discussions like these provide an important insight on how people feel about available natural resources, recreational opportunities, and management practices. All in all, acting as scribes for TCF was a great experience to see how land conservation works on the ground and how land trusts incorporate community input.