What May a Conservation Commission Do?
In addition to the statutory duties, a conservation commission is authorized by RSA 36-A to engage in the following optional activities:
1. "... may recommend ... a program for the protection, development or better utilization of all ... areas [in the index] ..."
Once the required "index” or natural resource inventory is prepared, a conservation commission may prepare plans and recommendations for appropriate use of the areas identified and urge their adoption or implementation by the appropriate body. Plans and recommendations can vary considerably in scope. A proposal might be for use of a municipally-owned parcel; for use, such as a trail system, involving several parcels; for the acquisition of a locally outstanding natural feature; or for regulation of development to protect natural resources such as steep slopes or wetlands ordinances.
Recommendations may involve comments on the municipal master plan or may include preparing the open space or conservation section of the master plan. If the master plan adequately addresses areas of concern, a commission may help the planning board draft an ordinance to implement the recommendations in the plan.
2. "... may receive gifts of money and property, both real and personal, in the name of the city or town, subject to the approval of the local governing body, such gifts to be managed and controlled by the commission ..."
"... may acquire in the name of the town or city, subject to the approval of the local governing body, ... the fee in such land or water rights, or any lesser interest ... and shall manage and control the same, but the city or town or commission shall not have the right to condemn property for these purposes."
The intent of the legislature was to allow conservation commissions to accept donations of land and to acquire land, either outright or through easements, in the name of the town or city. In either case, the municipality becomes the owner of the property or easement; a conservation commission may not "own" property.
3. "... may advertise, prepare, print and distribute books, maps, charts, plans, and pamphlets ... necessary for its work."
Informing the public about the importance of protecting natural areas for public benefit is vital to a conservation commission's success and to gain public support for a conservation proposal. If residents do not understand the need for a proposed action, often they will not support it. New Hampshire municipal conservation commissions must engage in public outreach and education in the form of written material, programs and presentations, and outdoor events and hikes to help gain support for initiatives. Our members info section provides more details on public outreach and education.
If your municipality would like to purchase property interests out of town or contribute Conservation Fund money toward a land protection project where the municipality will NOT hold property interest, they must first pass a warrant article to adopt RSA 36-A:4-a, I Optional Powers. The legislative body of a city or town may vote to authorize the conservation commission to purchase land outside of the town boundaries subject to select board approval or expend funds for contributions to land trusts and qualified organizations.
RSA 36-A:4-a allows the legislative body of a city or town to vote at an annual meeting to authorize the conservation commission to use either one or both of the optional powers listed below.
(a) Expend funds for the purchase of interests in land outside the boundaries of the municipality, subject to the approval of the local governing body; and
(b) Expend funds for contributions to "qualified organizations,"
If a conservation commission has identified a town-owned parcel suitable for a town forest, its recommendation would be in the form of a warrant article designating the parcel as town forest or town conservation land. The statute enabling local designation and management of town and city forests, RSA 31:110, RSA 31:111, RSA 31:112, and RSA 31:113, provides two options for municipal forest managers: a forestry committee created for that purpose, or, by a vote of town meeting or city council, a conservation commission may manage the town or city forest.