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Potential loss of working forests in UPs to be studied

October 20, 2010
JEFFERSON — The county commissioners are looking at finding a balance between working forests and conservation land. At their Oct. 13 meeting, the commissioners gave the go-ahead to John Scarinza of Randolph, chairman of the Planning Board for the county's Unincorporated Forests, to assist them in trying to articulate a policy that would set an upper limit on how many acres could be purchased by "no-cut" conservation organizations and-or federal agencies in the county's Unincorporated Places.

County treasurer Fred King of Colebrook had raised concerns at the Planning Board's August meeting when Trust for Public Land's spokesmen discussed adding 7,000 more acres to the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge.

Treasurer King and Mr. Scarinza said at last week's meeting that they are concerned about what would happen to the Cos County's wood basket and associated wood-fiber industry if too many acres are tied up in forests on which timber-harvesting is either very limited or prohibited.

Although there is no longer a pulp mill in Berlin, a new biomass plant will likely operate on the same location to generate electricity and potentially heat and/or steam for adjacent manufacturing plants, as yet unplanned. Other much smaller wood-burning projects are also in the discussion or permitting stage.

Mr. Scarinza said that a countywide discussion should be undertaken — possibly funded by grants — to help determine the appropriate balance between large tracts what would be open to well-managed commercial cutting and those closed to all tree-cutting, except that designed to enhance wildlife habitat.

Commissioner Paul Grenier of Berlin said that he is very interested in making sure county residents have an opportunity to weigh in on the topic since there are conservation organizations that would, as he put it, "tie up" every available acre. Now these environmental groups come in through the back door, having failed in frontal attacks, he said. "These groups want to make our forests into private playgrounds, using public funds," Commissioner Grenier said.

County administrator Sue Collins said that if the county doesn't want to see privately owned forests lands bought by federal agencies or to have conservation easements purchased with federal dollars that prohibit timber-cutting, then it needs to let its Congressional delegation know.

Chairman Burnham "Bing" Judd of Pittsburg said the conversation should have taken place a decade ago. Nearly a decade ago, chairman Judd gratefully approved the Connecticut Headwaters project that kept some 140,000 acres in working forest, funded in part by $12 million in state funds.

Mr. Scarinza said he had good personal relationships with representatives of many of the conservation-environmental groups and believes they would be interested in hearing Cos residents' concerns, including the future of lease-camps and of amenities such as duck blinds and deer stands on lands that could come under federal ownership.

Both Randolph and Errol have purchased and now manage large town forests for timber-harvesting, wildlife, and recreation, pointed out Mr. Scarinza. He chairs the five-member Randolph Community Forest Commission that guarantees local control within the guidelines of a conservation easement on a 10,000-acre forest in Randolph and Jefferson that is monitored annually by the state of New Hampshire.

Establishing county forests might serve the same function, Mr. Scarinza said, preserving timber harvesting on large forest tracts in the Unincorporated Places as well as providing local control over some aspects of forest management.

Martin Lord Osman
Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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