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USFWS proposes to add 425 acres to Pondicherry Refuge

October 14, 2009
CARROLL — The first acreage in this small tourist-oriented town could be added to the 5,500-acre acre Pondicherry Refuge, a division of the Sylvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge now entirely located in Jefferson and Whitefield.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) project leader Andrew French of the Conte Refuge, along with USFWS senior realty specialist Tom Geser and Jan McLure of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), presented a plan to add 425 acres to the Pondicherry Division to the selectmen, according to their Sept. 28 minutes.

The Service is looking at two adjoining separate parcels — one of 380 acres and the other, 44.19 aces — owned by two different landowners.

The location of the Service's hoped-for Refuge expansion is adjacent to the Jefferson town line, just west of the scenic overlook on Route 115. The USFWS would like to build a low-profile observation platform on the overlook that is located in Jefferson near the Carroll-Jefferson town line and also to improve parking. These improvements would allow travelers to get an overview of the low-lying area and also to read information about the area at which they are looking, including the remnants of a glacial lake formed at the end of the last Ice Age some 11,000 years ago.

The USFWS seeks the support of the selectmen. Mr. French explained that the Service buys land at market prices from willing owners only. Although the agency does not pay property taxes, it does make Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) instead.

When asked whether or not this proposal should go before the Planning Board, Mr. French replied that proposals such as these usually do not since there is no subdivision or development involved.

The Service's usual process is to interact and coordinate with town selectboards and he suggested that the board might want to check with Whitefield and/or Jefferson to find out how USFWS has been to work with.

Resident Ed Martin noted that he had been going up north to hunt at Lake Umbagog for many years and that it seems to him that since the National Wildlife Refuge was started there, there are no wildlife or birds. Mr. Martin said that he is concerned because it seems to him that when the public can access an area, it actually disturbs wildlife. It has made him wonder if introducing more people to an area is a good thing, he explained.

Mr. French responded that it is part of his job to strike a balance between plants, fish, wildlife, birds and people, and that all must be compatible.

He also explained that attempting to improve public access to a specific area to make it easier for people to get to them has the effect of leaving other areas alone for the fish, wildlife, and plants. There are no closed areas on the Refuge, he said.

During the discussion, the possibility arose that the location of the land being considered for USFWS acquisition may be in the same area as some land being considered as a possible location for a new town well. When asked how this potential conflict should be handled, Mr. French advised that the Town should speak with the landowner before the Service goes forward with its plans, and that then he and other from USFWS would be happy to work with whatever the situation turns out to be. He added that USFWS would not try to get in the way of anything.

Town resident Leslie Bergum said that she serves on the Carroll Conservation Commission (ConCom) and is also a member of the Friends of Pondicherry, where she has volunteered for many hours. She offered to take anyone who has not explored the Refuge in to see some of its public access points and other features.

Although Ms. Bergum said that she cannot speak for the Commission, of course, but that as an individual member she believes that a chance to have land in the Town of Carroll as part of the Refuge is a "tremendous opportunity."

Asked if the ConCom would be available to look into this proposal before any decisions are made, she replied that she expects that members would be very interested. Its next meeting is on Thursday, Oct. 22. Members also include chairman Joan Karpf, selectman Bonnie Moroney, Linda Dowling, and Ernie Temple.

Mr. French pointed out that if the select board or the ConCom has questions, their members should be in touch with either him or Mr. Geser.

The selectboard members on hand, chairman Chris Hancock and Ken Mills, told Mr. French that would let him know how they feel about the proposed acquisition before the end of the month. Although the USFWS could go ahead with the project without the support of the select board, Mr. French said that that is "not how the USFWS works."

The selectmen pointed out that by the end of October they would not only the ConCom's feedback, but would also have hard data on the exact location of the proposed new town well.

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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