Trust hopes to save land parcel owned by Plum Creek

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BETHEL — Development and public access concerns continue to drive a public trust to conserve one of the largest remaining blocks of private forest in New England, including a nearly 1,000-acre wetland that is home to some of the best native trout fishing in the nation.

Located in Errol, N.H., and mostly beside Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, which straddles the Maine-New Hampshire border, the 31,300-acre parcel is owned by Plum Creek Maine Timberlands LLC.

The cost of securing a conservation easement on nearly 23,000 acres, and buying about 8,500 acres to give to the refuge and New Hampshire Fish and Game to protect and preserve public access, is in the $20 million range, said J. T. Horn, the Trust for Public Land project manager for New Hampshire and Vermont.

“The goal is to do 23,000 acres as a Forest Legacy easement, so that would stay privately owned subject to an easement, and then about 7,500 acres would be added to the Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, and just shy of 1,000 acres would go to New Hampshire Fish and Game, and that’s around an area called the Greenough Ponds,” Horn said.

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“The way a Forest Legacy easement works is you can’t ever develop the land, and you can’t ever close it to public access, but it’s still privately owned,” he said. “It’s still a commercial forest.”

Additions proposed for the refuge include 2,920 acres bordering Route 16 and the northern half of the refuge; and 4,532 acres off Route 26 and the southern portion of the refuge. The trust will seek funding for the larger parcel in 2012, Horn said.

Streams and ponds on the 31,300 acres flow into the Androscoggin River right after the river flows out of Lake Umbagog and heads toward Maine.

“It’s like the first tributaries to the Androscoggin after it leaves the lake,” Horn said. “It’s 38 miles of streams and 12 ponds. The whole thing would be public access. There’s a lot of snowmobile trails, it’s popular for hunting, and the fishing access is really one of the primo places for brook trout fisheries in the eastern United States. It’s that good.”

“The Greenough Ponds are really significant because they’re some of the best fishing in the state of New Hampshire,” he said. “It supports native, non-stocked wild brook trout populations, and we’re trying to keep it from being developed.”

Horn said the trust would seek private funding toward the end of 2011 for the Greenough Ponds parcel of 938 acres, because it includes 4 miles of frontage.

“It’s all waterfront,” he said, and expensive.

Federal funding for the two southernmost parcels — totaling 17,169 acres — will be sought in 2012.

Through New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, the trust is trying to get $8.6 million in U. S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program money.

The trust asked for $4.5 million to fund the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s acquisition of a 2,920-acre property to protect critical brook trout habitat and enhance multiuse recreational opportunities and access, and $4.1 million to conserve 10,208 acres through a Forest Legacy easement that would allow continued sustainable timber harvesting at the Androscoggin headwaters.

The $4.1 million project is already fully funded in President Barack Obama’s budget, but the same budget only set aside $2 million for the $4.5 million project, Horn said.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

Canoeing on Little Bear Brook Pond on the Androscoggin Headwaters property in New Hampshire. Located on Phase I of the Trust for Public Land’s 31,300-acre conservation project, this land is proposed to be transferred to the Lake Umbagog National WIldlife Refuge in Errol, N.H.

This map shows the various 31,300-acre holdings of Plum Creek Maine Timberlands LLC in northern New Hampshire that the Trust for Public Land is seeking federal money to conserve.

This map identifies the various 31,300-acre parcels of Plum Creek Maine Timberlands LLC in northern New Hampshire that the Trust for Public Land is seeking federal money to conserve.

The moon rises over Long Pond on the Androscoggin Headwaters Conservation Project property. Located on Phase I of the Trust for Public Land’s 31,300-acre Androscoggin Headwaters project, this portion of the property is proposed to be transferred to the Lake Umbagog National Widlife Refuge.

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