History and activities of the Conservation Land Stewardship Program
What We Do
The program's roots began in 1993 with the conclusion of the acquisition phase of the New Hampshire Land Conservation Investment Program (LCIP). The LCIP, along with its private partner the Trust for New Hampshire Lands, protected just over 100,000 acres of land across New Hampshire. Half of theses lands are overseen by CLS, with the other half held in fee by the State of New Hampshire. All state-held conservation easements are monitored by CLS on behalf of the agencies holding the easements: Department of Fish and Game; Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; and the Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food.
Today the CLS program continues to grow as new conservation easement lands are acquired by, or donated to, the state. Approximately 50,000 acres of new State-held easements have been added since the end of the LCIP, bringing the total area of protected lands in the CLS program to just over 100,000 acres. This combined State and local acreage consists of over 370 individual properties, most of which are conservation easements.
While much of our work is comprised of on-ground monitoring of state held easements, a vital component of the CLS program is the provision of technical assistance, education, and field support to participating municipalities. This ensures that monitoring of the over 238 locally-held easements and fee-simple holdings is being conducted. CLS also serves as an important resource for communities to inquire about interpretation of easement language and other issues that arise during the perpetual life of conservation easements.
RSA 162-C:6 (formerly RSA 221-A) establishes the roles and responsibilities required for the LCIP properties, and continues to guide that portion of the CLS program. The LCIP portion of the CLS program is funded through the interest income from the LCIP Monitoring Endowment (RSA 162-C:8). The endowment was created with public and private funds to ensure that the State of New Hampshire's investment in conservation land protected through the LCIP would receive monitoring and stewardship in perpetuity. Other monitoring work under the CLS program is currently completed under annual contractual arrangements with the responsible agencies.
In 1994, the State of Hampshire established a stewardship program to protect, in perpetuity, the conservation values and the investment in lands protected through the Land Conservation Investment Program (LCIP). The framers of the LCIP and the New Hampshire legislature had the wisdom and foresight to create an endowment dedicated to permanently funding this program.
The original monitoring program was given responsibility for two key functions. First, it is tasked with physical monitoring of the state-held LCIP easements. Each easement was assigned to one of three state agencies; NH Fish & Game, NH Department of Agriculture, or the Department of Resources and Economic Development. The second category of responsibility is the oversight of the monitoring and protection of the LCIP lands protected at the municipal level, in which 78 communities participated.
The Conservation Land Stewardship (CLS) Program is an outgrowth of the original LCIP monitoring program due to the efficiency and effectiveness of having one entity handle all aspects of easement stewardship. CLS serves as a single point of contact for landowner questions, it maintains a single database, and it provides for consistent interpretation of easements across agency lines and municipal lines. CLS acts as a representative for each of the agencies that hold easements and it provides up-to-date information about the conservation monitoring status of each property. If technical questions or problems arise, agency staff are contacted and advised of the issue. CLS continues all of its LCIP responsibilities but has been asked to monitor other lands to the same standards established under the LCIP. These additional lands now total over 43,000 acres.
Under our LCIP responsibilities, municipalities are responsible for stewardship and monitoring of both easements and fee owned parcels acquired through the LCIP program. CLS, managing the LCIP program, is required to determine whether municipalities are managing parcels appropriately and whether terms of the LCIP project are being upheld. Our work includes a required field visit, conducted every five years (at a minimum) by CLS staff. We also meet with local conservation commissions every three years and provide full-time technical assistance and training to support municipalities in fulfilling their obligations.
Good stewardship is equivalent to an ounce of prevention. Done well, it makes the annual job of monitoring easier and less expensive over the long term. At the same time, it provides the critically important record that can be the pound of cure someday down the road if necessary. Of course, if monitoring is done right, it is a tremendous deterrent to a minor problem becoming a full-blown, and potentially costly catastrophe requiring litigation.
Stewardship is a necessary component of effective long-term land management. Easements granted "in perpetuity" require that the "grantee", or the entity that "holds" the easement, ensure that the terms of the easement are not being compromised… forever. Land acquisition, the showy part, is only part of the land protection story. Arguably the real protection begins the day the deeds are signed. If you really want to protect land, it is imperative you have an effective stewardship program in place and the long-term commitment and financial resources to back it up.