Citizens petition seeks new steward for Londonderry forest
LONDONDERRY — A citizens petition on the March ballot will ask voters to place the town manager in charge of the town forest.
Resident Kent Allen, the town’s cemetery sexton, said he created the petition because he is dissatisfied with how the 12-acre property behind the Town Common is being managed.
He said a forest cleanup, which has been in discussion for the past year but has never happened, is long overdue.
Allen submitted his petition, the sole citizens petition for the 2014 ballot, earlier this month after collecting more than 50 signatures, exceeding the 25-signature requirement for ballot placement.
If passed by voters this spring, all future decisions on forest upkeep would be under the jurisdiction of Town Manager Kevin Smith, though the input of various boards would still be considered on an advisory basis.
During the summer and fall months, Allen approached the Conservation Commission, as well as the Town Council and Heritage Commission, in hopes of moving forward with a long-awaited brush clearing of the town forest.
At the time, he suggested using volunteers from local Scouting troops, as well as the Londonderry Trails Committee, for the lion’s share of the work, noting that the area’s infestation of oriental bittersweet, an invasive plant, has been an ongoing problem.
Conservation officials agreed that the forest needs some attention, but expressed concern over the potential liabilities that might come with having volunteers clearing and sawing through brush and vines.
Allen stressed that the main goal at that time was to “remove only small trees of less than three-inches in diameter.”
But after conferring with an invasive species expert, Conservation Commissioner Deb Lievens said she wasn’t sure a full clearing of brush was the best way to go.Prescott Towle, who has worked with the town to remove bittersweet in the past, told the commission last fall that he believed herbicide is a more effective way of removing bittersweet than manually removing it, and Lievens told Allen she felt volunteers efforts could better be utilized by creating signs for the site’s new hiking paths.
Commissioner Gene Harrington said he felt it would be OK to clear a trailway stretching from the Town Common to Mack’s Apples orchards nearby, but balked at making any major modifications to the forest, which is home to many animal species.
Allen told the council this month that younger volunteers could assist in he process by manually removing brush, noting that several landscaping professionals have volunteered to assist with tasks requiring power tools.
According to Smith, should the citizens petition pass with voters, the financial aspects of forest maintenance would still need to be determined, since such projects are managed via Conservation Commission funds.
A public hearing on the 2014 town warrant is planned for Monday at 7 p.m. in the Moose Hill Conference Room at Londonderry Town Hall.
The town deliberative session will take place Feb. firstname.lastname@example.org