What is a Conservation Commission?

A commission is a group of volunteers working to protect the natural resources in your community. A municipal conservation commission has no regulatory powers, and it is role is an advisory board.  The conservation commission's powers and duties can be found in RSA 36-A. Municipalities may vote to establish a conservation commission  “for the proper utilization and protection of the natural resources and for the protection of watershed resources of…the town.”

Conservation Commission Origins

A 1956 proposal to drain and fill a marsh in Ipswich, Massachusetts for a housing development demonstrated the need for a local governmental body responsible for the conservation of the natural resources of the municipality. A group of community residents successfully used a state law authorizing the creation of local commissions for industrial development as the basis of their argument "for the acquisition and protection of the marsh on the grounds that it would enhance community values". (Grass-Roots Environmentalists) The Massachusetts Legislature passed the first law enabling a municipality to establish a conservation commission in 1957; by the end of the following year, 11 local conservation commissions were created in Massachusetts.

During the next 10 years, the northeastern states followed Massachusetts' lead: Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, and New Jersey passed conservation commission enabling legislation. Almost ten years later in 1977 Vermont adopted enabling legislation. Today, municipal conservation commissions exist in all six New England states, New York, and New Jersey.

Conservation Commissions Origins in New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, the first step toward the development of conservation commissions was taken in 1960, when Leslie Clark, education director of the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), attended the first New England Conservation Conference at Harvard Business School, which focused on the projects and problems of the new conservation commissions. In the Summer 1960 issue of the Society's Forest Notes, Les wrote: "This grassroots level attempt to promote conservation in local areas is commendable and points to the fact that many of our conservation problems can be approached from the local level." 

In 1963, the Conservation Commission Enabling Act was passed by the New Hampshire General Court and became Chapter 36-A of the NH Revised Statutes Annotated. However, few municipalities were aware of the new statute, and only one commission, Hollis, was created in 1964. In December of 1964 the Forest Society sent a copy of the enabling act to SPNHF members, urging them to initiate action to form conservation commissions in their municipalities.

At the March 1965 Town Meetings, 18 towns established conservation commissions: Bedford, Center Harbor, Durham, Epsom, Exeter, Francestown, Gilford, Hampton, Hampton Falls, Hollis, Hooksett, Littleton, Meredith, New London, Rindge, Rye, Salem, and Sunapee. In 1966, sixteen additional towns created conservation commissions.

The first statewide meeting of conservation commissions, organized by Les Clark of the Forest Society, was held in 1967. One result of this meeting was a quarterly newsletter for conservation commissioners, edited by Les Clark and first published by SPNHF. At town meetings that month, 23 towns voted to establish conservation commissions.

In April of 1968, Keene became the first New Hampshire city to establish a conservation commission. At about the same time, SPNHF hired Malcolm "Tink" Taylor, whose duties included working with municipal conservation commissions. Over the next two years, more towns established conservation commissions and today there are 216 conservation commissions in the state of New Hampshire.


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