“The lakes are the number one economic driving factor in the town.” So says Dan Coons, 11-year chairman of the Town of Wolfeboro Conservation Commission.
The lakes and scenic beauty are what draw people to the region as year-round residents, second-homers and tourists. That is why the Lakes Region is one of the fastest growing areas for single family housing construction since 2000, according to the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning.
Census data for 2010 indicates that 42% of nearly 40,000 homes in Carroll County are classed as seasonal. The owners of these homes pay taxes at the same rate as year-round residents; however they use significantly less resources which is a benefit to our communities, helping us to be some of the lowest tax rate towns in the state.
Also contributing to the draw of our area are our local farms and forest-related businesses. They are integral to our scenic beauty and rural character while contributing to the local economy and providing fresh food and other products people buy.
If the region wants to maintain growth, seasonal residents and our quality of life, it is imperative that we maintain the region’s scenic beauty, natural-resource based businesses and water quality. Even better is when we can improve on their quality and thus increase the lure of the area.
The town of Wolfeboro has numerous tracks of land under its stewardship. These parcels are integral to providing recreation, preserving both wildlife and wetland habitats, conserving a wide range of natural resources and retaining the scenic beauty of the region. The Wolfeboro Conservation Commission oversees their stewardship. Other organizations also own or hold easements for conservation purposes including the Lake Wentworth Foundation, Lakes Region Land Trust and the Society for the Protection of NH Forests.
The responsibility of managing these lands is in perpetuity. An easement or ownership for conservation purposes is more than a contract between a landowner and the town or organization. It is a plan that shapes the future in a fairly rigid way. Under IRS rules, the holder has no right to remake the arrangement, swap values, or consent to activities outside of what was clearly described in the easement, gift or associated parcel documents.
Conservation easements or ownership on agricultural or forest land almost always requires best farming or forestry practices be used, such as manure management, cover crops, disease or invasive species management and sustainable harvesting. Therefore the easement not only allows local businesses to continue to operate, but also reduces the impact of their operations on natural resources and water quality. These local farms and forest operations continue to provide necessary fresh food, other products, and employment while buying from local supply businesses and equipment dealers.
With a conservation easement the landowner holds on to and continues to use their land but development rights are permanently removed. The natural resources are protected, stewardship of the land is required, and the remaining rights of the private property owner are upheld. This is in exchange for tax benefits – but more important to most landowners is the preservation of the land as open or natural space, or working land for farming or forestry.
The inherent value of preserved land to the achievement of a healthy watershed is clear. Jack O’Connell, President of the Lake Wentworth Foundation explains: “Land conservation and water quality in our lakes are tied together by looking at the main threat to water quality —- storm water runoff. Environmental studies have shown mid-density residential areas when compared to conserved land/forests, export an average of 8 to 10 times the phosphorus during storm water runoff and snow melt.”
“This runoff carries unwanted nutrients, like phosphorus, that degrade the water quality of our lakes. The added phosphorus promotes unwanted plant growth in the water, including invasive species such as milfoil, and increases unwanted algae blooms. Ultimately this can lead to depletion of the oxygen needed to sustain a healthy fish population in the lower levels of the lake.”
O’Connell continues, “Forests and conserved land provide for nature’s way of filtering storm water, allowing the phosphorus to infiltrate into the ground, feeding the local vegetation, and preventing excess phosphorus from reaching nearby surface waters where it can cause water quality problems.”
Undeveloped land reduces nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment pollution and erosion. It provides buffers between developed land and streams and lakes, and can involve restoration of wetlands or improvement of wildlife habitat.
“Keep in mind”, commissioner Coons emphasizes, “the benefits of infiltration rather than runoff. Not contaminating in the first place is relatively easy without much cost as opposed to trying to take care of the situation after the damage is done.”
Note, the bulk of the work of Wolfeboro’s conservation commission is directed to analyzing projects and passing on their recommendations as to whether a development is safe for construction or should require modifications before commencing. There are about 40 reviews and decisions per year now as compared to over 100 per year during the housing boom a decade ago.
While neither Coons nor other commissioners traipse around looking for development projects without permits, not properly acquiring permits can lead to serious consequences. The commission seeks cooperation, not sanctions, to make sure landowners acquire appropriate permits including those related to shoreland protection.
One method for getting the desired cooperation is a well-informed citizenry, starting with an understanding that natural lands provide valuable ecosystem services that help deliver clean water. And that what you do on your land affects water quality in the watershed.
Coons adds, “Almost every raindrop or snowflake that falls on the land affects the water quality of our lakes and streams”. If people can understand that, they are more prone to seek and utilize best management practices.” (Best management practices being a type of pollution control or preferred techniques for reducing pollution.)
To this end, the Lake Wentworth Foundation and the Town of Wolfeboro, over the next two years, are designing and installing several treatment techniques so that runoff from South Main Street, Route 109 and Center Street is filtered before it is released into our streams and lakes. In addition, the Lake Wentworth Foundation will be providing community education opportunities to help landowners and visitors choose appropriate best management practices for their own properties.
The Lake Wentworth Foundation is a key leader in developing the Lake Wentworth and Crescent Lake Watershed management plan and a steward of over 160 acres of conserved land within the watershed. It is pursuing conservation of additional high-impact parcels in the watershed. For years, the LWF has provided support for water quality testing, milfoil treatment, and the lake host program led by the Lake Wentworth Association.
Information about the Foundation and its work is available on its website, www.lakewentworthfoundation.org or by contacting Karen Burnett-Kurie, Executive Director, at 603-534-0222.