Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge

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Plans to expand wildlife refuge in western NH

Jul 26, 2017

BY: CCNH-LFDA Highlights

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a long-term plan to expand the Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge, which spans four states around the Connecticut River watershed. 

Right now there are roughly 8,500 acres of the refuge in western New Hampshire.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would like to expand that to 47,000 acres over the next few decades.

How does the federal government expand a wildlife refuge?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may expand the refuge by either buying private property from landowners or entering into “conservation easements.”  Easements compensate private property owners in exchange for a promise to never develop their land.  The ownership of the land stays in private hands.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also authorized to use eminent domain to seize land, but according to a FAQ on their website, “our long-standing policy, as evidenced by our record, is to work with willing sellers only.” 

Is a larger federal wildlife refuge bad for NH?

Some residents of western New Hampshire argue that federal land acquisition hurts towns by preventing development and decreasing the tax base.

If the federal government purchases land and adds it to the refuge, the land is removed from tax rolls.  Instead of paying property taxes, the federal government pays the town an annual fee based on one of several possible formulas.  In some cases, this can decrease revenue coming into the town government.

If the federal government enters into conservation easements, the land owners still pay property taxes.  However, the town is deprived of any benefit of economic development on that land.

For these reasons, the New Hampshire Senate is considering a bill for next year that would limit the expansion of federal wildlife refuges. 

Federal land acquisition has its benefits

Opponents of that bill argue that any attempts to limit federal land acquisition would interfere with the right of private property owners to do what they want with their own property – including sell it to the federal government.

Others bill opponents argue that the wildlife refuge is needed to protect the water supply from the Connecticut River.

Wildlife refuges can also increase tourism, which benefits the local economy.

Share your opinion!

Do you have an opinion on federal land acquisition in New Hampshire, or the Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge in particular?  Share your opinion in the comments below.

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