Conserving Working Landscapes with the Androscoggin Headwaters Forest Legacy Project

With support from the Forest Legacy Program of the USDA Forest Service, the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands is achieving goals outlined in its Forest Action Plan.

The economy of Northern New Hampshire was anchored for generations by the pulp and paper industry until 2006 when the historic mill in Berlin closed permanently. As part of the decline of the pulp mill, hundreds of thousands of acres were divested and parceled out to new owners creating instability for the region’s forest and recreational economy, and uncertainty for residents.

These new timberland owners were looking for a return on their investment, which meant that some of the most attractive development parcels around ponds and mountain views were newly threatened. It also meant that there were new opportunities for conservation, where land trusts and public agencies identified thousands of acres that were desirable for protection due to their recreation value, wildlife habitat, and scenic beauty.

In 2009 the Trust for Public Land began working with the Plum Creek Timber Company to develop a conservation strategy for the 31,300 acres Plum Creek owned next to the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge and the Androscoggin River. The Androscoggin Headwaters Project aimed to conserve the most important wildlife habitat through fee purchase and conveyance to the US Fish and Wildlife Service or New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game.

The balance of the lands would be conserved with a working forest conservation easement held by the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development and funded by the USDA Forest Service Forest Legacy Program (FLP).

“The Androscoggin Headwaters project is an example of what can be achieved when public agencies, private organizations and individuals work together to achieve a shared goal,” said Brad Simpkins, State Forester. “We believed in the vision of maintaining commercial forestland next to protected wildlife habitat. The successful efforts of all involved have ensured that this land will remain a critical part of the region’s economy and ecology.” 

Working in close collaboration with numerous partners, the Androscoggin Headwaters project is the state’s third largest conservation project. It required a multi-year investment from over a dozen funders including numerous agencies, stakeholders and the political leadership of the stat. Over $17 million went into the 5-phase project structure that unfolded between 2010 and 2014, protecting more than 31,000 acres of forestland. 22,957 acres of working forest have been protected through a conservation easement which guarantees that harvesting will be done sustainably and take into account recreational and wildlife values.

All of the property remains open to public access for recreational activities. The Androscoggin Headwaters Project remains a highlight of New Hampshire land conservation efforts and a model of state government, federal government, non-profit and industry working together to ensure the right balance between commercial forestry and wildlife conservation. It took patience and a collaborative spirit to get through five phases and achieve a successful conservation outcome.

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