Ten years ago, my husband Marc and I sold our business in Chicago and acquired a woodlot in New Hampshire, thus fulfilling a lifelong dream of owning and conserving a large piece of land. The 470-acre parcel sits in the town of Springfield, New Hampshire, and nestles up against the 6,725-acre John F. Gile Memorial State Forest. As a nod to our neighbor, we’ve nicknamed our land “Woods Without Gile.”
Natural features on this rolling terrain include a forested swamp, beaver meadows, peatlands, brooks, and innumerable intermittent streams. Our diverse forest includes northern hardwoods and spruce, fir, and pine.
When it came to a management strategy for the property, we sought the advice of several experts, including a consulting forester. We’ve since done a salvage cut on a hardwood stand damaged by the ice storm in 1998, a crop-tree release in a mixed wood stand, and a series of 2- to 3-acre patch cuts designed to increase the animal species we see and hear on the property.
Conserving the land permanently was a different story, and involved a different set of experts. A working forest conservation easement is the only option a landowner has that will ensure that forestland remains undeveloped. The conservation agreement must be conveyed to a nonprofit organization that the Internal Revenue Service deems qualified; we chose to work with Ausbon Sargent Land Preservation Trust, our local land trust.
The first step was to get a survey and an appraisal. The survey revealed a minor boundary line discrepancy along our northwest border abutting the Gile State Forest. Although taking care of the details was time consuming (the agreement had to be signed by New Hampshire’s attorney general), the state was easy to work with and no conflict was involved. The appraisal fulfilled legal requirements stipulated by the IRS. As a benefit for donating the development rights to our property, we received a deduction on our federal income taxes. The appraisal determined the value of the donation.
Working with our attorney, who was well versed in transactions of this nature, and with representatives from Ausbon Sargent, we wrote the conservation easement. Ours allows us and future landowners to cut timber, establish trails, and build a rustic cabin. Ausbon Sargent is responsible for monitoring the easement to assure that the landowner abides by the conditions spelled out in the contract.
We still own, manage, and yes, pay property taxes on the land – we only donated the development rights. I note this because some people assume we gave the land to Ausbon Sargent or to the town of Springfield. By donating the development rights, we know the land will be a working forest in perpetuity; it will never be home to a strip mall or a housing complex.
The land is open to hunting, fishing, and hiking. Each summer, Marc and I brush hog and weedwhack six miles of former skid trails that we have cleared and seeded. From these trails, hikers can see cellar holes and other foundations that are evidence of an abandoned hill farm community known as Fowlertown.
We are lucky to be stewards of this special spot. But more important, because the land is protected through a conservation easement, we know future generations will have a chance to enjoy it, too.