State Rejects Carbon Credit Co. Plan To Reduce Logging Conn. Lakes Headwaters Tract

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Paula Tracy file photo

Meeting in Pittsburg last August of people concerned about changes in operation for the headwaters tract. Selectman Steve Ellis is pictured standing.


PITTSBURG – The state has rejected a 10-year forest management plan for the massive Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Tract in Pittsburg, Stewartstown and Clarksville from its new owner, Aurora Sustainable Lands.

Aurora, which is in the carbon credit business, plans to significantly reduce the tree harvest and focus on sequestering carbon by keeping trees standing instead and selling the credits in California.

The primary reason for rejecting Aurora’s plan “is that the decreased timber harvest and increased focus on harvesting carbon credits violates the purposes of the property’s Conservation Easement, which are to ensure that the approximately 146,000 acres of land in New Hampshire’s North Country, known as the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Forest, largely remains an undeveloped productive working forest,” in a letter to Aurora from Sarah Stewart, commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and Patrick Hackley, director/state forester, division of Forests and Lands.

“Responsible forestry plays a large part in New Hampshire’s long and proud tradition of environmental stewardship,” Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said in a news release about the rejection. “As proposed, the plan would have detrimental impacts on sustaining traditional forest use, conservation of wildlife habitats, and take a serious economic toll on the North Country. In rejecting this plan, New Hampshire is protecting our treasured outdoors and its traditional use for future generations of Granite Staters.”

Stewart said: “Aurora’s plan is to extract maximum value from this property without maintaining the promise of economic benefit to the local community.

“Perhaps one can try and argue that carbon credits are simply a different type of forest product…the difference is that the fee owner is the sole financial benefactor. Extracting value for itself is very different than maintaining economic opportunity for the greater community that has been protected by the easement with the agreement of continued timber harvesting at a level we have seen throughout the history of the property,” Stewart said.

The state purchased a Conservation Easement on the property in 2002. The tract is the largest privately owned forested property in the state and has been managed by industrial foresters for at least 50 years before the easement was granted, the release said.

The land is largely undeveloped, productive, working forest which also provides public access for recreation and conserves ecologically sensitive areas. The easement was put in place to preserve the forest and ensure that traditional timber harvesting, which supports the surrounding local economies, continues while simultaneously ensuring public access to the property for year-round recreation.

Blake Stansell, President of Aurora Sustainable Lands, said: “We have just received the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (DNCR) initial response to our proposed Stewardship Plan and are thoroughly reviewing their comments. Aurora and DNCR have a shared goal of ensuring the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Working Forest continues to support local timber harvesting and forest products industries, wildlife, recreation, and related businesses as it has for more than a decade. We look forward to the next step in the process, which includes additional meetings with DNCR and NH Fish & Game.”

 The state remains open to negotiation, Stewart said, regarding the necessary adjustments to the proposed plan that would allow the property to remain both an economically viable and sustainable working forest that allows Aurora to capitalize on carbon credit revenue while also providing economic stability to the local citizens and regional partners relying on timber harvested from the property. 

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said: “The Connecticut Lakes Headwaters is a truly special place that requires thoughtful management to fit with the conservation easement put in place more than twenty years ago. Today’s decision reflects the responsibility that the State has to the people of New Hampshire to ensure that the new owners of the land manage it as a largely undeveloped, productive working forestland that provides public access for recreation, contributes to the local economy and conserves ecologically sensitive areas. I continue to call on Aurora Sustainable Lands to work closely with the State and local stakeholders—as I have over many years—to ensure sustainable timber harvest and appropriate management of this remarkable landscape.”

Aurora (formerly known as Bluesource) is the new property owner of the 146,000 acres, but the state has control over a plan for its use as part of its $45 million easement it paid for with state, federal and donated funds in 2002 and 2003.

The plan as presented in January is in direct violation of the purpose and stewardship goals, Stewart said.

It violates the terms of the easement as it relates to economic sustainability, she said, adding the annual allowable harvests are based on questionable data. The plan contains negative implications for the ecological balance of species on the forest and includes wind as a non-timber resource, Stewart said.

When it acquired some of the 1.65 million acres it has in 14 states, Aurora merged with the Forestland Group. The Forestland Group had already enrolled this North Country land in the California Air Resources Board’s Compliance (Carbon) Offset Program

The company’s planned reduction of half the logging on this tract impacts truckers, loggers, mills, taxpayers, banks, wildlife habitat and more.

It comes at a time when the state is learning about this emerging market, which is related to climate solutions, and having to come to terms with what it means to the economy and taxation in New Hampshire’s future.

Lawmakers are considering House Bill 1709 to create a study committee on carbon credits.

And coincidentally, but separately, the decision comes just as a citizens group concerned with the recreation use on the land will meet April 17 at the Pittsburg Fire Station at 6 p.m. to discuss a separate recreation plan for the 146,000 acres agreed to by both the state and Aurora.

There is not much of a change in recreational use of the land from its previous 20 years in the new recreational plan, but the logging plan is a different matter.

Last fall, the company presented its harvest plans for logging the 146,000-acre tract to the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Division of Forest and Lands. It called for about half the normal cut.

But because the state holds a conservation easement on the land, it must approve operations and stewardship plans. 

While reviewed by that agency the plan also had the eyes of the attorney general to see if it meets the criteria required under the easement.

And Sununu said the advent of carbon credit farming was an emerging concern on the state’s radar for its impact from lack of timber tax revenue to impact on business.

“We are watching this very closely,” Sununu said previously. “We are a logging state. A lot of folks rely on those jobs. I think we do it smart. We do it with conservation in mind. To see more and more of these tracts of lands being bought up by these national groups, not local groups for the carbon credits. It sounds good, I suppose, environmentally but it has real repercussions to us locally…”

Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, a Wakefield Republican, also expressed concern early on for “companies coming into New Hampshire (often unregulated) to create private landowner contracts” which could hold up land use for decades for the purpose of carbon offsets.

He called it “a threat to our timber and wood product industries. It is also a threat to local New Hampshire revenues in which small New Hampshire communities rely heavily on timber tax in some cases to balance their budgets. The carbon credit industry is an unchecked industry here in New Hampshire and beyond that has gone unnoticed.  An industry that just walked into New Hampshire with outside…investment companies who are calling the shots and changing our timber and management culture right before our eyes,” Kenney said.  

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