CONCORD — Communities across the state own more than 180,000 acres of undeveloped forests, fields and wetlands that create nearly $146 million a year in economic benefits — including recreation and maple sugaring, according to a new report.
That makes up nearly 4 percent of the state’s forestland.
“Town-owned conservation lands are an often overlooked and underused resource,” said Karen Bennett, a forestry professor and specialist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.
“We’re now able to talk about town forests in terms of millions of dollars of annual economic and ecological contributions — important information when working to persuade people that town forests are worthy of owning, protecting and managing,” Bennett said.
The yearly economic benefits were broken into two groups: $54 million from recreational uses and more than $92 million from forest-related industries, such as logging, milling, wood products manufacturing and the maple industry, according to John Gunn, a research assistant professor of forest management at the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and UNH Cooperative Extension.
The Northern Forest Center, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Commissions worked together.
“This project allowed us to quantify the combined contributions these lands are making toward clean air, clean water, and conserved lands for natural communities and habitat,” said Julie Renaud Evans, program director at the Northern Forest Center. “The study brings awareness to town forest land as a resource for stewardship, recreation and education.”
UNH Extension county foresters interviewed local officials and documented 180,439 acres of undeveloped municipal property.
The study said towns have permanently protected 119,640 acres of forestland and manage 127,867 acres with the help of natural resource professionals.
The NHACC said it plans to prepare written materials and online tools in the coming year to help towns with acquiring and managing forestland.
The U.S. Forest Service helped fund the inventory with a $148,000 grant that the participating organizations matched with staff time and resources.