Nature Conservancy Protects Additional Pine Barrens

Ossipee — December 13, 2004 — The Nature Conservancy continues its efforts to protect the Ossipee Pine Barrens, a globally rare ecosystem and important habitat for birds and rare moths.

The Conservancy this week purchased 84 acres in Ossipee, a parcel that was slated for subdivision and development. The property lies between the Windsock Village and Soaring Heights private airport communities and the West Branch of the Ossipee River. Twenty-four acres of the land is part of New Hampshire’s best example of a red maple floodplain forest, with the rest being pitch pine-scrub oak habitat. The Nature Conservancy owns additional pine barrens habitat directly across the river.

The Conservancy learned that developers were interested in expanding one of the adjoining private airport communities and had approached the property’s former owner, North Atlantic Air Inc. of Beverly, Mass. The Conservancy quickly made an offer for the property, which was accepted by North Atlantic Air’s principle owner, Kenneth Robinson.

Ecologists have long recognized the Ossipee Pine Barrens as one of the country’s best examples of northern pitch pine-scrub oak ecosystems, which has essentially become an endangered habitat. The Conservancy has made protection and careful restoration of fire here a top priority.

Since the late 1980s, the Conservancy has protected 2,050 acres in Freedom, Madison, Ossipee and Tamworth, nearly half of which are pitch pine-scrub oak habitat. To meet the goal of protecting 1,500 to 2,000 acres of pitch pine-scrub oak, the Conservancy has identified several properties and is talking with landowners. In recent years the Conservancy’s challenge has become urgent because of the area’s rapid development.

The very features that contribute to the Ossipee Pine Barrens’ ecological qualities are in part responsible for the area’s high development pressure. Its flat and well-drained sandy soils make the pine barrens an easy place to build.

“The pace of development there is increasing rapidly,” said Duane Hyde, TNC’s director of protection in New Hampshire. “Subdivisions both large and small are encroaching further into the pine barrens. People who’ve owned properties for a long time are selling them and the new owners are subdividing. The clock is ticking quickly in this area.”

Among the natural forces that have defined the Ossipee Pine Barrens is fire. Every 25 to 50 years or so — for thousands of years — fire would burn parts of the forest here. The forest of pitch pine and scrub oak is both susceptible and specially adapted to fire. Certain wildlife species prefer the habitat, including several species of butterflies and rare moths and declining songbirds, such as whip-poor-will and rufous-sided towhee.

Because of fire suppression and changing land-use patterns, fire has been virtually eliminated from the Ossipee Pine Barrens since the last big burn in 1957. Now The Nature Conservancy is preparing to restore the pine barrens habitat, first with mechanical treatment this spring near East Shore Drive. The Conservancy is planning to conduct carefully prescribed burns in some parts of its preserve in the coming years with the help of local and state fire agencies and the White Mountain National Forest. The work will not only improve and maintain the pine barrens habitat but also reduce the risk of wildfire by removing fuel loads that have accumulated for decades. The Conservancy has no immediate plans to conduct prescribe burns on its recently purchased tract in Ossipee.

The Conservancy needs to raise $344,500 for the recent land protection project. If you’d like to contribute, contact Tiffany McKenna, 603-224-5853, ext. 15. For more information, visit www.nature.org/newhampshire.

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