Who Should Serve On a Conservation Commission?

The composition of a conservation commission is prescribed by 36-A:3. Commission members must be residents appointed by the selectmen or mayor for three year terms, staggered so that each year approximately one third of the terms expire. The statute does not directly suggest qualifications for commission members, though the governing body should take into consideration whether the potential member has demonstrated an interest in the protection of natural resources.  The law does permit one member to serve simultaneously on the city or town planning board and one or more members to serve on the heritage or historic district commission. Common members can help to establish and maintain communications among these bodies, whose interests and activities may overlap but whose perspectives may differ.

Mayors and selectmen are responsible for appointing numerous local officials and often welcome suggestions or volunteers for municipal positions. While there is no "magic formula" of background or education to ensure that an appointee will be a good conservation commissioner, there are several areas that should be considered by those appointing or suggesting possible commission members.

The most important characteristics in a commission member are an interest in conservation and a willingness to devote time to the work of the commission. Few New Hampshire commissions have staff; those that do usually have a secretary or the occasional assistance of a municipal employee whose primary responsibility lies elsewhere. What a New Hampshire conservation commission accomplishes is in direct correlation to the time and effort expended by commission members.

Another factor to weigh is the balance of interests and talents among commission members. Conservation is a broad term embracing a number of interests related to natural resources. Hunters, fishermen, canoeists, foresters, farmers, hikers, snowmobilers, botanists, ornithologists, biologists, hydrologists, geologists, soil scientists, educators, and those concerned with pollution prevention and community planning are all interested in natural resources, but their perspectives on what constitutes wise use of those resources may vary considerably. Engineers, attorneys, photographers, and writers have skills that can be useful to a commission.

As a municipal body, a conservation commission should consider as many interests as possible in its recommendations for "proper utilization and protection of the natural resources" of the municipality for the simple reason that failure to do so is likely to result in unheeded recommendations. One way to ensure consideration of different concerns is to have members with varied interests and knowledge.

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