Town to receive grant

MILFORD – More than 600 acres of Milford conservation land are closer to being preserved forever thanks to a grant from the state, part of $2.4 million that will go to 20 wetland protection projects around New Hampshire.

Although an $8,260 grant was given to the town to help permanently protect the Hitchiner Town Forest, the easement will also cover Milford’s 452-acre Mile Slip Town Forest.

“Having one easement for both forests is most cost effective,” Conservation Commission member Audrey Fraizer.

The New England Forestry Foundation was chosen to hold the easement because the organization is large enough to have legal backing.

Milford residents voted overwhelmingly last year to authorize the easement on the 194-acre Hitchiner forest, despite a negative recommendation from the Board of Selectmen. The selectmen voted 3-2 against the article, saying the land should be under conservation for 25 years, and after that, residents could chose whether to renew the easement.

“By making this property subject to a conservation easement, we take away the right of future generations to decide how they would like to use the property,” the board aid in its majority opinion.

Voters approved the Mile Slip easement in 2015.

Fraizer said an example of what can happen when conservation land isn’t protected by an easement is the building of Bedford High School about 10 years ago on what had been conservation land.

“It only takes a vote of the town to take it out” of conservation, she said.

Hitchiner had been a gift to the town from the Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., and it was once farmland. Fields and stone walls are still visible. It features a chestnut oak woodland forest on about 30 of its acres, a tree species considered rare and“critically imperiled” by the state’s Heritage Commission.

Chestnut oak is native to the eastern United States, where it is one of the most important ridgetop trees from southern Maine southwest to central Mississippi. Its acorns are valuable wildlife food.

“It is nice to see intact forests remaining on the landscape,” said Lori Sommers, wetlands mitigation coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Services.

The grants come from the Aquatic Resource Mitigation fund, managed by the DES, and the money comes from developers who are required to compensate for the environmental loss caused by their projects.

Among “the beauties of Hitchiner,” Fraizer said, are two large fields that are kept mowed so they remain as fields. Open fields have become rare in the southern New Hampshire landscape, and are considered important for some birds and wildlife.

According to the Milford town website, both forests are available for hiking, picnicking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and bird-watching. It says the highlight of a hike is 751-foot Burns Hill,“ a delight of exposed granite bedrock, blueberry bushes, ground juniper, red cedar, pitch pine and stunted oaks.”

Brookline is getting $89,000 for the acquisition and bank restoration on 22 acres of Nissitissit River shoreline, with a conservation easement to be placed on the property and held by the Piscataquog Land Trust.

The viability of projects is based on certain criteria, including the state Fish and Game Department’s Wildlife Action Plan, and final approval from the governor’s office is needed for the grant decisions.

Milford’s grant will help pay for the $18,000 cost of having the N.E. Forestry Foundation hold the easement.

The nonprofit was started in 1944, and has helped conserve more than 1.1 million acres, including 1 out of every 3 acres of farmland in New England, according to its website.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com. Don Himsel can be reached at 594-1249 or dhimsel@cabinet.com.