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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen & Judd Gregg: Connecticut Lakes headwaters landscape as important today as ever

NEW HAMPSHIRE’s forests are a defining feature of our state — especially in the North Country — from the scenic landscapes to the habitat they provide for New Hampshire’s iconic wildlife, like moose, black bears and loons. Our forests contain outstanding water resources and unbeatable trout fishing. They sustain good jobs in our forest products industry. They’re a place for adventures for hikers, birders, skiers, snowmobilers, hunters and anglers and more.

New Hampshire’s forests are so ingrained in our way of life that when the largest privately-owned tract of forest in the state — the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters lands — was put up for sale more than 20 years ago, the two of us — then a Democratic governor and a Republican U.S. senator — came together to convene a citizens task force to plan for its future. Our charge was to develop a consensus approach for the protection of these lands to ensure they continue to provide the many economic, recreation and natural resource benefits they have provided New Hampshire citizens for generations.

The work of our task force resulted in the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Conservation Easement, which protected 146,000 acres in Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown as undeveloped, working forestland with the help of the federal Forest Legacy Program, New Hampshire’s Land and Cultural Heritage Investment Program and other state funding and private donations.

The purpose of the easement then, as it is now, was to ensure that traditional, sustainable forest uses would continue along with public access to outdoor recreation, protection of wildlife habitat, safeguarding water quality, conservation of natural resources, preservation of open space and scenic views and other activities that benefit the people of New Hampshire.

Our 42-member task force — a coalition of public officials, North Country residents and nonprofit organizations that was informed by public meetings and hundreds of public comments — took care to craft a locally driven, consensus-based conservation strategy reflecting the best interests of our citizens, economy and quality of life. This effort has proven remarkably successful.

As climate change threatens the health of our forests and communities, this easement is as important as ever. Fortunately, keeping forestlands as forests is a simple yet powerful way to combat climate change. Well-managed forests that include sustainable timber harvesting absorb and store carbon as the trees grow, and continue storing carbon in the trees, soil and in the form of wood products. A viable forest products industry in the region benefits forest health and can enhance the role of the forest in combating climate change in addition to maintaining livelihoods in the local economy.

That’s why we are concerned with the degree to which the new owners of this vital forest appear to be planning reductions in timber harvesting. As a private landowner, the company has discretion to manage its land as it sees fit, so long as it is complying with the easement. We respect that. It is crucial, though, that the state and federal investment in the conservation easement be protected, including by ensuring the continued production of timber, pulpwood and other forest products that have been a major component of the region’s economy — and for so many families in the North Country — for more than a century.

The state holds the easement on this tract of land and is currently reviewing the proposed annual operating plan. We hope that this year, and in future years, the state and Bluesource Sustainable Forest Company will each closely consider the stewardship responsibilities they hold to ensure this land is managed as a largely undeveloped, productive working forestland that provides public access for recreation, continues to contribute to our local economies and conserves ecologically sensitive areas.

We stand ready to work with the people of New Hampshire to see that the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters lands are managed in a balanced way that supports the economic and ecological well-being of the region.