Should The Nature Conservancy Manage the Natural Area?

Effingham – June 21, 2007 — If DRED does not have the money and staff to steward Ossipee Lake Natural Area properly, it should consider partnering with an environmental organization that does.

That’s the view from the Effingham Conservation Commission, which this week sent a strongly worded letter to DRED Commissioner George Bald expressing concern that the state agency has done little to stem the damage being caused by boaters using the property’s shoreline as a beach.

“The lack of an appropriate stewardship plan for saving the Natural Area is a cause of great concern to many, including the Effingham Conservation Commission,” Commission Chairman Kamalendu Nath wrote.

Applauding the agency for posting new signs in May that list the general rules for DRED parklands, Nath nonetheless said that the Commission’s concerns “have not been addressed.”

Calling the Natural Area “one of our State’s great natural and cultural resources,” Nath wrote that “The issue seems to center around a repeated failure of conservation goals entrusted to DRED versus a badly managed recreational use, by default.”

As an alternative, Nath recommended an easement or a joint stewardship plan with a suitable non-profit environmental organization such as The Nature Conservancy.

“An easement could ensure that [DRED’s] recurring failure and a slow bleeding of our natural and cultural heritage comes to an end, once and for all. A joint stewardship could facilitate the management of this region and meet the recommendations provided to you in August 2006,” Nath wrote, referring to a DRED inter-departmental memo sent to the commissioner by Philip Bryce, director of the agency’s Division of Forests and Lands.

In the memo, Bryce pointed to years of damage to the Natural Area caused by boaters and recommended that the shoreline be closed to allow the property to recover while a public access policy is written.

Green Mountain Conservation Group, Ossipee Lake Alliance and Long Sands Association all reported that Bald told them that he had accepted Bryce’s recommendation last September and would implement it by this summer.

Instead, the agency held a public meeting in May to assess “management options” for the property, which contains rare plants and the remains of one of the area’s oldest Native American settlements. Among those attending the meeting who spoke in favor of using the property as a public beach were State Representative Harry Merrow and area resident Mike Breault, leader of an organization called the “Long Sands Sinners.”

Several weeks after the meeting the agency posted signs at the Natural Area stating that it is illegal to remove plants from the property or have fires there, including the use of charcoal and gas grills. The new signs replaced signs that were ripped down and vandalized several years ago.

In an interview with the Carroll County Independent two weeks ago, DRED official Bryce said that no specific protection plan for the Natural Area was in the works due to a lack of enforcement capability and the fact that it is a “busy part of the season.”

“We’re hoping eventually the need for enforcement won’t be that great,” Bryce told the paper.

Last week, Ossipee Conservation also wrote a letter to DRED saying the agency needed to develop “a management plan to protect the remaining rare plants on the shoreline, stabilize and reverse degradation of rare and unique natural communities and protect historic resources from disturbance and vandalism.”

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