The Nature Conservancy Moves Closer to Protecting Fall Mountain

The Nature Conservancy
Saturday, 5 June 2004

Mountain-top wetlands harbor globally rare plant

The Nature Conservancy has taken a big step forward in its effort to permanently protect 950 acres of critically important habitat on Fall Mountain in Charlestown and Langdon, including three of New Hampshire's eight populations of a globally rare plant, the Northeastern bulrush. The property also harbors pristine ponds and streams and abundant habitat for deer, wild turkey, waterfowl and other wildlife.

The Conservancy announced today that it has reached agreement with New England Power Company to purchase the land. The Conservancy is raising funds for a purchase and plans to close the deal August 31.

Meanwhile, the Conservancy has a preliminary agreement with state officials to transfer the property -- once protected -- to the N.H. Division of Forests and Lands. Under this scenario, Fall Mountain would become New Hampshire's newest state forest. The Nature Conservancy would hold a conservation easement that would prevent development and ensure sound recreation and forest management practices to protect the Northeastern bulrush and other sensitive and exemplary ecological features.

"This is a terrific opportunity to achieve multiple conservation goals," said Daryl Burtnett, state director of The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire. "We've got a remarkable chance to protect an endangered plant and their entire watershed, while preserving a wonderful natural classroom for students at the adjoining Fall Mountain Regional High School. We've also got the opportunity to work with the Division of Forests and Lands in establishing a state forest where the project's primary goal is to protect biodiversity."

"We are very pleased that a nonprofit conservation organization would come to the state and offer us the property," said Philip Bryce, director of the N.H. Division of Forests and Lands. "The Nature Conservancy is clearly comfortable with our ability to manage this property well. This property is a perfect opportunity to apply the stewardship standards we apply to all of our state lands: protecting biological diversity, production of timber, outdoor recreation, and the protection of scenic and cultural resources."

Fall Mountain straddles the southwestern New Hampshire towns of Charlestown, Langdon and Walpole, overlooking the Connecticut River and North Walpole and Bellows Falls, Vt. Near the top of Fall Mountain is a series of small ponds and wetlands that drain south into Mountain Brook and the Cold River.

The pond-wetland ecosystem supports three of New Hampshire's eight known populations of Northeastern bulrush, a globally rare and federally endangered plant species. The Fall Mountain tract includes the largest and best-ranked occurrence in the state.

Susi von Oettingen knows Fall Mountain well. She's a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has monitored Northeastern bulrush there for many years.

"What's really important about this project is that it's an opportunity to protect this plant in a whole watershed," von Oettingen said. "And it's the plant's only site in New Hampshire that would be fully protected."

Because the plant "requires such a special set of conditions" for it to thrive, protection of its habitat is an important part of its recovery, she said.

If the Fall Mountain tract is not protected, several scenarios potentially threaten its natural resources, including land conversion, residential development, liquidation timber harvesting, and changes to the wetland ecosystem's natural hydrology.

The project will ensure continued public access for traditional low-impact uses on the property, including hiking, hunting, fishing, nature observation and snowmobiling on existing trails. In addition, students from nearby Fall Mountain Regional High School will be able to continue using the land for athletic training, natural science projects and maple syrup production.

"As conservation professionals and natural resource managers, we need to continue to explore how biodiversity conservation can interface with recreational activities and the working landscape," said Mark Zankel, director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire. "Our Fall Mountain partnership with the state offers a great chance to advance these issues, while conserving one of the state's real gems." Over the past year, Zankel assembled the multi-agency Fall Mountain Technical Committee, which has developed detailed management guidelines designed to balance the property's ecological, recreational, scenic and economic values.

Fall Mountain is part of a largely unbroken 4,000-acre block of forest. The extensive and intact surrounding forest is in good condition with evidence of sound forest management practices.

The Nature Conservancy is raising funds from private and public sources to protect Fall Mountain. Private fund-raising so far leads with a $50,000 grant from the Austin Memorial Foundation. Public sources so far include a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and two grants from the N.H. Land and Community Heritage Investment Program totaling $350,000.

"Fall Mountain is a great example of a project that might not have happened without LCHIP," Burtnett said. "This underscores the importance of restoring funding to LCHIP, which often provides the key catalyst to great conservation projects."

For more information, or to contact The Nature Conservancy, see their website at: www.nature.org

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