MONT VERNON — Progress has been made in raising the bulk of the money necessary to preserve 500 acres of forest in the area, but an additional $35,000 is needed to close the deal.
The land is owned by the Wilkins family and includes five parcels located throughout Mont Vernon and Amherst. The family, which has operated Wilkins Lumber Company for eight generations, has agreed to sell five easements to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
The land would continue to be used for timber harvesting but would also be available to the general public for passive recreation such as hiking, hunting and fishing. The easements will also protect wetlands and streams that feed the Souhegan and Piscataquog rivers in the Merrimack River watershed.
“Like any well-managed working forest, the Wilkins acreage is home to diverse wildlife such as songbirds, amphibians, deer, moose and bears,” said Brenda Charpentier, communications manager for the forest society. “The easements will ensure that these lands remain intact to continue to provide high-quality wildlife habitat.”
The society set a goal of raising $190,000 for the purchase of the easements, and since April has raised $155,000. Though the original deadline for fundraising was Sept. 30, Tom and Sally Wilkins have agreed to extend the deadline to Dec. 1.
Charpentier said that despite the challenges of keeping their lumber company going in a soft economy, the Wilkinses agreed to donate 90 percent of the value of the easements to the society. The donation, she said, is a reflection of the Wilkinses’ conservation ethic, but there’s still a hill to climb.
“Our big challenge has been to raise the remaining 10 percent, plus the money needed for transaction costs and a stewardship endowment,” she said. “With $35,000 left to raise to cross the finish line, it’s exciting to be getting so close to being able to permanently protect these forests so that they’ll be havens of habitat and natural beauty close to where lots of people live.”
Martha Twombly, development specialist for the forest society, said residents of Amherst and Mont Vernon will benefit by having conservation land in their neighborhoods.
“We encourage outdoors-loving residents to look at the maps on our website (www.forestsociety.org), see how close these forests are to their homes and consider helping us to keep them open and undeveloped,” said Twombly.