By Barbara Tetreault
LANCASTER — The Nash Stream Forest Citizens Committee earlier this month unanimously approved the updated draft management plan for the 40,000-acre forest.
Four years in the making, the draft plan now goes to the N.H. Council on Resources and Development on Nov. 16 for its review. Final approval rests with Commissioner of Natural and Cultural Resources Jeffrey Rose and Director of Forest and Lands Brad Simpkins. Simpkins said he hopes to see the plan finalized by the end of the year.
In making the motion to approve the plan, committee member Mike Waddell of Gorham said he thought the Division of Forest and Lands and the technical team had done a good job balancing competing interests and uses of the forest.
“No one gets everything they want,” he observed.
Waddell said he would like to have seen increased timber harvesting in the plan. He said he also did not have a problem with allowing additional ATV trails on the perimeter of the property.
ATV use on the Nash Stream Forest has been a contentious issue. The original management plan, approved in 1995, did not allow recreational ATV use on the forest. The plan was updated in 2002 and the revision allowed for a 7.6-mile ATC connector trail on the West Side Road.
That trail was eventually made permanent and three years ago a 4-mile Kelsey Notch Trail was opened as a pilot ATV trail to serve as a connector to the Ride the Wilds trail system. In May 2016, the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Nature Conservancy questioned the legality of both ATV trails.
The matter ended up before CORD, which has management and administrative responsibility for lands purchased under the state Land Conservation Investment Program. LCIP was a major funding source for the Nash Stream State Forest.
CORD ruled the East Side Trail met state standards and was legal. But the council said it did not have sufficient information on the Kelsey Notch Trail and allowed it to provisionally operate for three years while data is collected for a determination.
Representing the Nash Stream OHRV Task Force and the North Country OHRV Coalition, Larry Gomes said over half the comments received on the draft plan came from ATVers seeking additional access. He said ATV enthusiasts asked for three additional trails, all short connector trails on the perimeter of the forest.
The plan provides for considering one additional trail on a provisional basis — a 1.3-mile Southern Connector trail.
Gomes said public money was used to purchase the forest, and public access is one of the main objectives. He charged the state has allowed the environmental groups to railroad the process.
Environmental activist Jamie Sayen of Stratford, a member of the committee that wrote the original management plan, said the Nash Stream Committee was set up to do the management plan. He said the technical team assisted but the plan was written by the committee, which had a diverse membership. He said legislation made the committee advisory and turned over the process of developing the plan to the division of forest and lands.
“I don’t think it’s a good precedent to have those who implement the plan, write the plan,” he said.
In his presentation, Simpkins noted they went through two draft plans with two public hearings and a total of 75 days for people to offer public comment. He said there has been ample opportunity for public and technical comments.
Sayen said the original plan called for establishing a 1,500-acre softwood control area. He said that has not been done and should be a priority. He called for a ban on timber harvesting until the control area is established. Simpkins agreed on the need for a softwood control area as close as possible to the recommended 1,500 acres. He said his agency will try and find a softwood control area.
Sayen said the state has not appropriated the money for monitoring outlined in the original plan and said the money for third party certification would be better used for monitoring, inventory and planning.
The Stratford man also spoke about the importance of addressing climate change and proposed managing Nash Stream as a “climate change refuge” for maximum carbon sequestration by allowing trees to grow much older. Simpkins said in response to comments about the importance of addressing climate change, that chapter was moved up in the plan and his agency worked with U.S. Forest Service climate control expert Maria Janowiak. He pointed out that one of the original purposes of the forest was to contribute to the forest economy through the sale of wood.
The update of the plan got underway in 2013 with a multidisciplinary technical team formed to collect data and information. A first draft of the plan went out for a 45-day public review period this January and two public information sessions were held. Simpkins said 163 comments were received.
The comments were reviewed with both the Nash Stream Citizens Committee and CORD. In September, a second draft was release for a 30-day comment period. Simpkins said 20 comments were received and described the comments as more technical in nature than the earlier ones.
In attendance at the Nash Stream Committee meeting, Commissioner Rose said his agency wants to be good stewards of what is public land. He said he feels the plan is a good one.
Simpkins promised the committee his agency will be back next spring when it starts to implement the plan.