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

Members must be interested in resource protection.

The most important characteristics of a commission member is an interest in conservation and a willingness to devote time to the work of the commission.  What a New Hampshire conservation commission accomplishes is in direct correlation to the time and effort expended by commission members.

What is important for a commissioner to know?

A commission should have members with a balance of interests and talents. 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 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" in order to gain public support and perspective. One way to ensure consideration of different concerns is to have members with varied interests and knowledge serving on the commission.

Where Can a Commission Find More People To Help?

Once a commission is established and involved in numerous projects, members may wish for more people to share the work. Although the number of regular members of a commission cannot exceed the number authorized by local vote (between 3 and 7), RSA 36-A:3 allows for the appointment of an unspecified number of alternate members. Alternates who serve "in the absence or disqualification of a regular member" have full voting powers. A commission should encourage alternates to attend meetings regularly and to participate in commission activities.

In addition, RSA 36-A:2 allows a commission to "appoint such clerks and other employees or subcommittees as it may from time to time require." Conservation commissions may use this provision to create subcommittees to expand available manpower and expertise. Potential commission members may be asked to work on a short-term project as members of a committee chaired by a commission member. Others with a particular area of expertise may be willing to assist the commission on occasion but prefer not to participate on a regular basis. In some instances, former conservation commission members continue to contribute to the work of the commission as "advisors" or "associate members".

Conservation commissions in New Hampshire have used these techniques to expand participation and capabilities beyond those of appointed commissioners. However, attendance by volunteers who are not officially appointed to the commission may not participate in official action, such as voting on commission business.

When new members are appointed to the conservation commission it is important to engage and involve them from the beginning. Consider assigning a mentor to help train the new member and create a welcoming atmosphere where everyone's opinion is valued.

Finding New Members

A good commission works to find interested people and engage them in the work of the conservation commission. Look for potential members who have already shown interest in commission activities and may have attended hikes or presentations.  Present your recommendations to the appointing authority (usually the select board) with a letter that references RSA 36-A and outlines why this person will be a good addition.

To encourage new members to join the commission, create a welcoming atmosphere and provide training and mentorship to new members. Invite interested potential members to a conservation commission meeting so they can get a better understanding of your role in the community. Most of all, make it fun. Host hikes and educational outdoor programs that will attract conservation minded people who share your commissions interests and goals.