Amherst Conservation Commission urges support for warrant articles

AMHERST – Amherst voters will find two warrant articles on the ballot this year that will cost voters no money and will provide support to the conservation of open space and outdoor recreation in town. These articles are supported unanimously by the Board of Selectmen and the Ways and Means Committee.

Both articles relate to New Hampshire’s Land Use Change Tax. This tax is paid by developers when open space (forests, grasslands, farmlands, etc.) in current use is converted to residential or commercial properties.

One of the intents of the LUCT is to generate revenue that can be used by towns to support open space conservation. This money enters a “Conservation Fund,” where it is used to acquire properties and conservation easements (with consent of the Board of Selectmen). LUCT funding allows the Amherst Conservation Commission to continue to manage its current properties (such as Joe English Reservation, Pond Parish, Grater Woods, Betty Arnold Forest, etc.), and expand its portfolio for the benefit of nature and the town’s residents.

Article 24 will provide the full revenue (100 percent) from the LUCT to the ACC in years to come. This allows the ACC to be better equipped to address potential property acquisitions and easements, as property values increase over time. Also, it allows the ACC to respond to the increasing costs of maintaining the natural habitats of our lands, especially with the ever-increasing abundance of invasive species.

Article 25 will provide to the ACC a portion of the LUCT funding from the previous fiscal year (2016-17) that already has been collected from developers. The ACC will use this amount, $43,500, for three projects to help improve the conservation and outdoor recreation potential of town land.

1. Improve Recreation Trails:

The ACC will provide $15,000 to the Amherst Recreation Department to assist with an 80/20 matching trails grant from the Department of Resources and Economic Development. This money will help in the first phase of a proposed bike/pedestrian pathway to go in the area of Birch Park, through areas of Spring Road and Baboosic Lake, to Joshua’s Park and the Village.

2. Update Amherst Forest Management Plan:

The primary objective of forest management in Amherst is to maintain forest health and improve habitats for biodiversity conservation. ACC manages 10 town forests, totaling 1,566 acres. Its management plan is based on field inventories and management approaches developed 20 years ago. However, much has been learned about forestry approaches in the past 2 decades, not to mention the fact that our forests have grown, been harvested, and changed in many ways. The ACC will allocate $13,500 to engage a consulting forester to update the Forest Management Plan. This will include updating forest inventory and maps, evaluating effects of past forest management practices, and developing an updated written management plan for coming decades.

3. Manage Invasive Species in Amherst Open Spaces:

Invasive species have become common in Amherst. When invasive plants take over the town’s open spaces, they displace native species and wildlife that are naturally supported. If invasive species are not controlled, they spread exponentially – often times becoming more costly and difficult to control. The ACC plans to allocate $5,000 to control the invasive plants (such as Oriental bittersweet, autumn olive, and honeysuckle) currently inhabiting the Great Meadow (across from Wilkins Elementary School). This will be a two-year process that will protect soils and ecosystem health.

The ACC also will allocate $10,000 to complete the second phase of a two-year project involving invasive species impacting the town’s Bragdon property, the town’s most invaded landholding (with plants such as barberry, multiflora rose, and autumn olive).

The ACC hopes the townspeople agree that this money will be put to good use by advancing the preservation of open spaces in town, at no cost to voters. It will also allow the Recreation Department to advance their hope that one day Amherst will have safe and accessible walkways to get around all of the town. The ACC asks for your support by voting yes for warrant articles 24 and 25 at the upcoming town elections on March 13.