News from Concord: Conservation Funding Raided (again!)

Recent updates from the budget hearings in Concord do not paint a rosy picture for the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) and the prospects of some significant land conservation initiatives in New Hampshire that have been geared up for upcoming LCHIP grant rounds.

Yesterday (6/9/10), the Concord Monitor outlined the implications of the bill:

“The bill also cuts $1.5 million in land conservation funds from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program. According to LCHIP Executive Director Deborah Turcott Young, the $1.5 million represents all the money left in LCHIP’s fund that is not already obligated to specific projects. That money was supposed to go to a new round of grants in July. If the grant round still goes forward, LCHIP will only have available any money it gets in June or later. LCHIP is funded by a fee for document recording at the county registers. LCHIP gets an average of $300,000 a month, but beginning in July, half of that money will go to the state’s general fund instead.”

Chris Wells of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said that with the latest diversion, the Legislature will have taken a total of $4.5 million, or more than 60 percent, of all funds collected from the fee – which was supposed to be dedicated to LCHIP.

“‘This action . . . would render LCHIP essentially meaningless in terms of its ability to contribute to conservation in New Hampshire and likely require the program to lay off some or all of its small staff,’ Wells warned. ‘LCHIP would be kept alive in name only.’”

What will this mean for UVLT and land conservation in New Hampshire?

Unfortunately, the lack of any significant new funding for conservation through LCHIP may mean that some valuable working landscapes including prime farmland, forests and important wildlife habitats, may never be protected. When a land conservation opportunity comes along, UVLT may only have a short window of time in which to work with the landowners and funding partners to create a successful conservation solution. Without LCHIP funds to leverage local and federal dollars, the prospects of some of these projects may be significantly weakened, and could be lost altogether.

The importance of state investment in our working landscapes and in open space for recreation and healthy communities cannot be understated. We hope that LCHIP will not remain alive “in name only” and will instead be reinvigorated with more of its dedicated funding soon so that it can continue to be a valuable partner in preserving the places that help make New Hampshire special.