Coos Commissioners Want 3 Public Sessions on Carbon Credit Impacts On Logging

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Charles Levesque photo

Logging in the Perry Stream Valley of the Headwaters tract in Pittsburg in this file photo.


WEST STEWARTSTOWN – The forest culture of the state, honored for generations, “will be dead and we will become outsiders to our own forest” if a “carbon first” culture replaces it, the Coös County Commissioners said in a letter to state officials.

The three-member body wrote on May 29 to Sarah L. Stewart, commissioner of the NH Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, about Aurora Sustainable Lands Management Plan, which proposes to cut half the amount of wood on its recently acquired tract at the tip of the state known as the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Forest.

While the state rejected the company’s plans to cut in half the normal logging on the tract and is in legal negotiations, the commissioners are calling for at least three public listening sessions for the state to hear about impacts from the change in land use plans and want the new owner to attend.

They have suggested such public input in Pittsburg, Lancaster and Concord. Stewart did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

This land owned by Aurora is the first in the state to become a carbon credit farm.

Aurora is a company that buys former logging tracts across the country and retains the trees long-term for companies that want or need to offset their carbon footprint. It has a “carbon first” philosophy.

But this land is different from most of its tracts because there is an easement on it with the state of New Hampshire.

Located at the very tip of New Hampshire, this 146,000-acre tract is the largest single tract of land in private ownership and was once owned by a major logging company. 

When it went up for sale more than 20 years ago the state purchased an easement for private owners to follow with the goal of maintaining logging, hunting, fishing and other traditional recreational uses.

In April, the state rejected Aurora’s 10-year management plans, setting up a legal negotiation process that is now underway. 

Officials for the company said they will work with the state to come to an agreement.

Meanwhile, for the North Country, there is a specific financial threat to this change in land management for municipalities and the county.

Much of the tax base is paid for by timber taxes and without that revenue, residents and property owners are likely to pay far more in taxes or lose services, local officials have warned.

A study committee is being set up by the New Hampshire legislature to look at alternative revenue sources and other impacts from carbon credit farming, which was never contemplated when the state bought the easement.

Coos County Commission Chairman Thomas M. Brady, and Commissioners Raymond Gorman and Robert Théberge told Stewart that they look forward “to working with you on this very complicated issue which has significant implications for our state. We urge the Division of Forests and Lands to adhere to the current management plan and consider all the probable effects on local communities in the development of future management plans.”

This follows up on a letter that was sent by the commissioners to State Forester Patrick Hackley Jan. 18 and in testimony before the legislature.

“One cannot reiterate enough that ‘carbon first’ forest management is a fundamentally different way to manage forests than what has been the historical practice in New Hampshire. If Aurora had been able to implement the rejected management plan, it would destroy the working relationship between all stakeholders (property owners, timber industry, recreational use, and conservationists) that has evolved over generations and served New Hampshire and its citizens well,” the commissioners wrote.

“This nexus of stakeholders has been an ongoing public policy dialogue played out in Concord and our communities over decades and is instrumental in creating the State’s current tax structure, land access, and preservation laws and ethos. This is not just a North Country issue but a statewide issue with profound implications.

“The Commissioners seriously question the efficacy and legitimacy of any actions, whether by the private sector or state regulatory authorities, that upend that paradigm without a vigorous public policy vetting.”

Last summer, after Aurora (formerly Bluesource) acquired the land the logging community in Pittsburg and other areas of the North Country began to hear that the new owner’s plan was to limit logging and focus on growing trees instead. This had implications for their work, the local mills sourcing the wood, truckers and businesses that rely on logging.

“Our concerns about the intentions of Aurora’s Forest Management Strategy are well founded. Aurora markets itself as a carbon first company with a long-term vision. Aurora’s website states, ‘Our forests and lands are creating generational carbon removal and storage. With centuries of future growth and carbon removal potential ahead, the forests have…time to recover from the shorter, industrial harvest cycles under previous ownership.’”

The commissioners asked Stewart: is “Aurora going to work substantively and constructively with the OHRV and snowmobile clubs to guarantee today’s baseline trail system and user access?

“What is Aurora’s intention about maintaining the network of roads and trails on the property?

“Will there be a financial commitment to maintain the current infrastructure?

“Will Aurora keep the lease rates of the camps competitive, or will it price out the leaseholders?

“Will Aurora prioritize hiring local loggers and contractors?”

The County’s concerns are legitimate when one considers that Aurora’s parent company is Anew Climate, LLC of Houston, Texas, the commissioners said.

“Anew has an environmental commodities portfolio across five continents and is itself a subsidiary of TPG Rise, a global impact investing platform. The TPG Rise Fund and its Board is a who’s-who of global power elite which includes Bono, Richard Branson and Reid Hoffman.

“They truly represent the 1% of the world that owns 43% of all global financial assets,” the commissioners wrote.

New Hampshire does not want to be like California or Canada, they said, with the constant smoke from wildfires creating multiple health hazards. 

A recent University of Colorado Boulder study says that wildfire risks should be better understood and “robust insurance policies” should be developed for carbon offset projects. Carbon is released into the atmosphere in a forest fire negating the purpose.

“lf the largest private landowner in the state can implement such a radicalized ‘paradigm-shifting strategy’, the State should place an appropriate valuation of 100 years (to correspond with the terms of the carbon credits that the natural resource generating for Aurora) on the economic, environmental, ecological, and cultural impacts,” they said.

The commissioners encouraged the state to remain vigilant in not approving any plan that does not take all of those factors into consideration without an appropriate valuation so that the county, towns, and state are made whole for generations.

By statute, the Coös County Commissioners oversee the 23 unincorporated places in Coös County and rely heavily on timber taxes in formulating budgets. And of course, timber taxes are an important part of many town budgets, especially in those towns where the Connecticut Lake Headwaters property is located.

At the public hearing for House Bill 1697 in the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee on Jan. 9, Blake Stansell, president of Aurora Sustainable Lands, testified that Aurora looks to reduce harvesting by a minimum of 50 percent within its portfolio and future cutting tends to be smaller and individually focused.

The company committed to a $120,000 one-time payment to the Town of Pittsburg which normally receives money for its budget from timber taxes off the tract.

The state has rejected Aurora’s 10-year forest management plan noting “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,” Stewart wrote.

The rejection letter was also signed by Hackley.

“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.”

Stansell said: “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.”

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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