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New conservation study looks toward water quality protection

Chris Wells and Dan Sunquist of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests present their new data highlighting land with high conservation value around Central New Hampshire to help keep lakes clean. (Jeff Ferland) (click for larger version)
September 26, 2012
Representatives from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) presented a new study of high value conservation land in the Lakes Region to the Gilford Conservation Commission Thursday, Sept. 20 as their first of six stops around the area.

According to Chris Wells, SPNHF strategic projects and policy senior director, the purpose of the study was to identify any high-risk conservation areas which could impact the water quality of the many lakes and rivers of the region.

Dan Sunquist, SPNHF land conservation planning director, explained that they worked together with representatives from several state agencies and conservation organizations around the Lakes Region. These agencies included the New Hampshire Fish and Game, Lakes Region Conservation Trust, Nature Conservancy, Newfound Lake Region Association, Squam Lakes Conservation Society, Green Mountain Conservation Group and Lakes Region Planning Commission. He said they first worked to identify high value conservation qualities like buffers around rivers and bodies of water, steep slopes and high erosion areas and unbroken forest blocks.

They presented a slide show with maps highlighting various conservation sites around the Lakes Region, extending North beyond the Ossipee and West including the Tilton/Northfield area up to the Newfound Region.

According to Wells, they wanted to study this area because it contained the highest concentration of lakes in the state and was, there for, more in need of land conservation to help protect lake water quality.

According to Sunquist, there are 244 lakes and great ponds in the Lakes Region, including six of the ten largest lakes in the state. With more than 90,000 acres of surface water in the region, Sunquist said the quality of this water was greatly important to the overall environment.

According to Wells, the Lakes Region is also the fastest growing region in the state.

"For decades, we have seen high percentage growth in population, and it continues to trend up," said Wells, explaining that population growth has a direct effect on private forest areas.

Their study showed several areas where their designed conservation quality, each with a weighted value, overlapped to represent areas of high conservation value.

"Resources were factored in by importance," said Sunquist, who explained that they used a Delphi process to find the value of each conservation quality.

According to their map, this included the an area in the Belknap Range extending through Gilford and Gilmanton, and areas in Sanbornton, New Hampton, Laconia and Alton.

Wells explained that the results from new study were not intended to force conservation restrictions on private land but to alert landowners that their land is of high conservation value.

"We want them to know who to go to," said Wells. "They might see that their land is high value conservation land. We can help them put their land in conservation if they are interested."

Wells stressed the point that they are not trying to pressure private landowners into placing their property into land conservation, but rather highlighting high-value conservation areas so interested landowners might look into voluntary land conservation.

Wells said they also hoped municipalities and conservation groups would consider this data when adopting new conservation policies, and possibly collaborate across town lines on large high-value areas like the Belknap Range area stretching from Gilford to Gilmanton.

According to Wells, this was their first of six presentations around the region, which would include presentations in Moultonborough, the Squam Lake region, Newfound area and Ossipee through the Fall months.

For more information or to view the slide show, visit the SPNHF Web site at forestsociety.org.

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Varney Smith
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