NRI and Conservation Plans


In order to protect natural resources in our communities, we must first learn what natural resources are present. A Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) is required in New Hampshire by RSA 36-A. The conservation commission enabling legislation does not address a mandatory structure or required content for your NRI. Natural resource inventories vary considerably among commissions. The basic information contained in most inventories includes conservation and public lands; water resources; farm and forest resources; wildlife habitat; and zoning and tax maps. A natural resources inventory can inform other local boards and residents about the special natural features of their municipality.  The NRI can help guide the municipal master plan process and zoning ordinances. 

Email if you would like examples of NRIs completed by other conservation commissions so that you can decide what will work for your community.

There are a number of tools available to create maps of the resources in your community. UNH Cooperative Extension has several resources to get you started. You'll also want to try  GRANITview, a free online mapping tool. This on-line mapper will help you find natural resources in your community including, wildlife habitat, soils, conservation lands and more.  Additional mapping tools can be found on the NH Department of Environmental Services website.

Once you have completed your natural resource inventory make sure that you promote it. The NRI is the foundation of your town’s Conservation Plan and should be used by the planning board as a screening tool to identify significant resources.  The information should be included in your town’s Master Plan to defend land use regulations. Natural resources inventories are working documents and should be updated every 5 to 10 years.

Conservation Plans

A conservation commission with a completed natural resources inventory is ready to develop a plan. A conservation plan is a vision for the protection of the ecological health of your community and provides an action plan to accomplish goals. It’s helpful to have a plan in order to focus efforts, set priorities, and to suggest strategies, to protect important natural resources. A good conservation plan can also provide a yardstick by which to measure progress.

The first task in preparing a conservation plan is to articulate its purpose and specific objectives within the general goals of responsible use and protection of natural resources. Your conservation commission should review and analyze the data from the NRI and determine what areas are critical to protect. The data should help drive your goals and objectives for future conservation zoning and land protection efforts.

It’s best to start working with the planning board early in the process to help pave the way for support for the plan and its adoption as part of the municipal master plan. Both the legislature and the courts emphasize that local land use regulation (zoning) must be consistent with the master plan. Therefore, any plan developed by a conservation commission ideally should become part of the municipal master plan.

Next, a conservation commission should take its list of objectives and use the mapped data to locate areas of specific concern. Your maps should identify areas of critical habitat if you want to protect wildlife. Most towns identify key drinking water supplies to ensure protection of water resources. Some commissions use the term “Conservation Priority Area” to describe areas that are most important. A plan may also identify areas for future commission activities, such as town-owned land with potential for a town forest, or water bodies without public access. These areas should be identified on a map using the boundaries of natural resources rather than parcel boundaries.

For additional help you can hire a consultant

If creating an NRI and conservation plan seems too overwhelming, your commission may hire a natural resource consultant. Consider the level of involvement you need to get the job done.  Do you want a consultant who can give a public presentation or facilitate a public outreach workshop? Do you simply need assistance creating maps? Pay close attention to reviewing NRIs completed by other commissions. Keep track of features you like and which consultant(s) worked on these projects. Regional planning commissions are also a good resource when developing conservation plans.

If you're going to hire a consultant check with your municipal office to understand whether there's an expected procedure in your community. Many commissions use a request for proposals (RFP) process. The RFP would state your requirements for the project and the expected timeline. This document can be circulated to those consultants you're interested to hire, plus the document could be placed on the town or commission's website. You may also want to conduct interviews to help you make the choice of whom to hire for which task.