Local Regulation

How to find the relevant RSAs to guide your commission

Interpreting the law can be challenging but knowing what laws apply to conservation commission work is an important part of successful interaction with other board. The first step is know where to find the rules and regulations that impact your work.
The state of New Hampshire determines how municipalities are structured and provide direction on commission activities. The laws of the state of New Hampshire are called Revised Statutes Annotated, or RSAs. Research on this subject can be done by searching the Revised Statues Annotated (RSAs).

Contrary to popular belief, New Hampshire is not a home rule state. Despite our political tradition of local control, New Hampshire’s Constitution does not grant any power directly to municipalities. Our municipalities only have the authority to act if the state legislature gives it to them through a statute. This means that when a town, local board, or official wants to take a certain action, they must find a law that grants them that authority. It is not enough to conclude that there is no law prohibiting the action; silence in the law is usually a prohibition against that particular municipal action."

RSA 36-A is the law that governs conservation commissions in New Hampshire. New Hampshire RSA 36-A authorizes a municipality to establish a conservation commission “for the proper utilization and protection of the natural resources and for the protection of watershed resources of said city or town.” This is where the most guidance can be found regarding what conservation commissions in New Hampshire can do and must do. The state law enabled the creation of conservation commissions as advisory body. Conservation commission have no authority to regulate, approve, deny or restrict land use in NH. To be effective, a conservation commission must work closely with the planning board, select board, or local governing body.
The Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A) applies to all municipal boards; therefore, conservation commissions must adhere to the provisions of this law. As a public body, a conservation commission must hold meetings that are open to the public, post all meetings, and take minutes of all meeting and make sure they are available for public review in a timely manner.