Looking to increase monitoring of protected properties, the Conservation Commission may form a subcommittee to assist with walking the Town’s many conservation areas.
In the meantime, the Conservation Commission has been out the last few weekends working to complete the monitoring of both recreational areas and protected easements.
Last week, members conducted a walk of the conservation easement located behind Home Depot on Route 102, finding an old tire and large quantities of bittersweet.
With no trails and a great deal of overgrowth, the walk through the property was challenging.
But the small group pushed their way through, taking careful notes of a stone wall on the property, a small stream that provides drainage from the Home Depot site, and large piles of what appeared to be debris covered by the snowfall.
“I’m not sure what those lumps are,” Commissioner Mike Speltz said, observing the piles. “I don’t remember them being here.”
They found small clues of activity on the property and the development of the site years ago.
“During the property monitoring trip of the 68 acres of conservation land, we noted bittersweet infestation, along with animals tracks of fisher cat, rabbit and red fox,” Commissioner Mike Noone said after the walk.
Conducting the monitoring walks is one of the most time-intensive responsibilities of the Commission; but with thousands of acres of protected open space in Londonderry, it’s also one of the members’ more important duties, ensuring the properties are preserved as intended.
Taking photos along the way, the Commission documents violations and helps keep easements, as well as recreation areas, clean and functioning properly. And with the experience gained from walking through the properties, members are able to offer guidance to the Town in making decisions regarding potential impacts that future development would have on the Town’s natural resources.
The Commission has monitored 421 acres of land designated as “conservation easement” since Nov. 9, according to Noone.
“These 421 acres, along with hundreds of other acres under conservation easement, give Londonderry the rural, green look and feel that it enjoys. However, there are literally thousands of additional acres in Londonderry that ‘look’ green for the time being, but that are available for either conservation or development,” he said. “The town’s ability to keep the majority of its existing green spaces depends on the funding made available by the Land Use Change Tax (LUCT).”
Noone notes the LUCT, which the Commission uses to purchase open space, “is not a broad based tax on the citizens of Londonderry.
“The citizens of Londonderry voted via warrant article to utilize the LUCT (paid by developers) for a Conservation fund to be managed by the Conservation Commission,” he said.
Town Councilor Tom Freda has proposed a warrant article that would increase the General Fund’s share of LUCT funds – where the Commission has been receiving the first $1,000 of LUCT and sharing the remaining amount of LUCT with the General Fund, the Commission would share all LUCT funds with the General Fund.
Recognizing Councilors’ concerns that the Town has enough open space and that conservation land is underutilized, the Commission has discussed in recent meetings the need to conduct monitoring walks of all protected properties in town annually.
In addition to preventing abuses and discouraging uses that aren’t permitted, the Commissioners’ presence on conservation land encourages recreational use of the properties.
“We’re woefully understaffed. We could easily use another four to five people,” member Roger Fillio, a newer member of the Commission who conducted one of his first monitoring walks around Mack’s Apples last month, told the Council at its Dec. 21 meeting.
Fillio said at the Commission’s Dec. 29 meeting that they need to get a group of additional volunteers together to help with conducting monitoring because it’s “just too much work for the number of people who show up.”
“There’s always a possibility of having a subcommittee of people who are not appointed to the commission, with a member, to do monitoring work,” member Eugene Harrington said.
It’s not unusual for a Conservation Commission in a large town like Londonderry to find it challenging to conduct monitoring walks of all of its protected properties.
Several years ago, Derry’s Conservation Commission organized a field day at which volunteers were trained by Commission members and experts from the State on how to conduct monitoring and report violations observed on protected properties.
Harrington said the Commission has in the past had as many as 10 to 15 non-appointed members serving as eyes and ears while recreating in conservation areas, “but that ebbs and flows.”
But Harrington noted that having two members of the community apply to serve as members of the Commission without having ever attended a meeting is a good indication there is interest in town for the type of work the Commission is doing.