Land Conservation

How conservation commissions can help protect land

The New Hampshire has a long history of land protection and a strong conservation ethic to support these efforts. Natural areas provide a boost to our local economy through tourism, more jobs, and protects our built infrastructure from natural disasters like fire and floods.

Conservation lands provide public services with safe drinking water and clean air. Getting out in nature is good for your health and helps to reduce rates of stress, depression and obesity.

A common goal for many NH Conservation Commissions is protecting natural areas with ecological significance. A conservation commission is authorized by RSA 36-A:4 to acquire land or conservation easements in land for conservation purposes in the name of the city or town with the approval of the governing body.  The municipality then becomes the owner of the property or easement; a conservation commission may not itself “own” property.

There are different land conservation techniques that towns can use to acquire land including the purchase of property or acquiring land through a donation from a landowner. Keep in mind that municipal lands are protected with various levels of permanence. Ownership alone does not guarantee that a parcel will be used for conservation purposes in perpetuity. To ensure the property will be protected as conservation land, commissions have found that an easement held by a land trust ensures that property will be protected in perpetuity. Towns have also designated town forests or conservation land at town meeting to make sure the land is used for conservation purposes. To determine the best level of protection or the conservation options for a specific property a good place to start is with a review of the natural resources.

Would you like to learn more about protecting critical natural areas in your community or how to approach landowners? NHACC has sample documents that can help you get started.

We also recommend that you contact your local land trust to help with landowner outreach. You can find your local land trust on the NH Land Trust Coalition website. They also have an excellent handbook to help you learn more about the options for conserving land in the Conserving Your Land, Options for NH Landowners. You can download or purchase the book to share with landowners in your community.

Enforcement of Rules and Restrictions on Conservation Land

Protecting conservation land is just the first step to ensure the property remains a natural area with ecological values. Commission must take time to monitor local conservation properties to make sure land use regulations are followed and ensure compliance with any restrictions or easement terms. The police are the appropriate enforcers of land use restrictions, but there must be an ordinance to enforce. Conservation easements held by the municipality will need the cooperation of the select board to enforcement easement terms.