Errol Town Forest and Milan Community Forest
Printed in Covers Spring 2020
We derive great benefit from public land as a venue – for many of us, the only venue – for our outdoor pursuits. The RGS & AWS works with many federal, state and county agencies to improve grouse and woodcock habitat and access on national forests, state forests/wildlife management areas and county forests across the country. In northern New Hampshire, three towns have taken conservation into their own hands, each forming a town forest that’s actively managed for multiple uses. The towns of Errol, New Hampshire (population 291 in 2010), and Milan, New Hampshire (population 1,337), were inspired to establish their town forests in part by the idea of local control, active forest management, local economic benefits, open access to hunting and multiple recreational and educational uses. Their establishment and RGS involvement are described below.
The late Fran Coffin, a two-term selectman in Errol, is credited with promoting the idea of establishing a vast town forest in Errol. In the early 2000s, Umbagog (pronounced “um-BAY-gog”) National Wildlife Refuge, headquartered in Errol, was in the midst of developing a comprehensive refuge plan that included a 47,807-acre expansion of its acquisition boundary. Although mostly supportive of the refuge’s forest and shoreland conservation objectives, many Errol residents favored the idea of local control of conservation land. In 2005 the town established their community forest with the purchase of 5,269 acres of forestland known as the 13 Mile Woods, and in 2009 added 1,839 acres on the east side of the Androscoggin River for a total of 7,108 acres straddling both sides of the river.
By necessity, the Errol Town Forest Commission was creative in financing the forestland acquisition. With help from the Trust for Public Land and the Community Forest Collaborative, the town secured Forest Legacy funding from the US Forest Service, New Market Tax Credits and a grant from New Hampshire’s Land & Community Heritage Investment Program as a down payment for a loan on the land purchase. Fortunately, much of the newly-established town forest was well stocked with marketable hardwoods. Proceeds from timber sold from sustainable harvests on the town forest enabled the town to pay off the mortgage seven years early, with the final payment made in October 2019.
The next chapter in the Errol Town Forest story is revising the forest plan, which is due in 2023. On the advice of an RGS member, the Town Forest Commission reached out to RGS to provide information on forest management practices that would benefit ruffed grouse, woodcock and other wildlife. Armed with new information, the Commission will need to determine what portion of the forest to keep in uneven-aged saw-log management, and how much land and where they may want to devote to even-age management that will benefit young-forest dependent species such as grouse and woodcock.
The Milan Community Forest got its start with several town parcels for which they didn’t have a plan and a few resident foresters with an idea. The forest committee recognized the importance of Milan’s position on the landscape in providing a critical wildlife corridor connecting the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) on the west side of town with the Mahoosuc Gateway conserved lands to the east. The creation of a community forest would give the town flexibility and control not possible in a national forest. With assistance from the Northern Forest Center and Trust for Public Land, the town approved the establishment of the Community Forest in 2012, and in 2016 the town used a combination of grants and town money to purchase three parcels to bring the community forest to 1,385 acres. The community’s goal is to expand the forest to at least 5,000 acres where residents and visitors will enjoy open access to hiking, hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation, local schools will educate students in an outside laboratory, and exemplary forest management will provide timber revenue and wildlife habitat, and support the local economy.
Unlike the Errol Town Forest, the forest parcels that Milan acquired were recently harvested and so had little timber value, and some have poor growing stock. In 2017 RGS got involved when the late John Lanier, retired wildlife program leader for the WMNF and retired habitat specialist for New Hampshire Fish & Game, brought together RGS, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Milan Community Forest. We worked together to bring federal Farm Bill funds to both improve degraded stands and provide young forest habitat for grouse, woodcock and other wildlife on 52 acres of the community forest by clearcutting the degraded stands with a mulching machine. The treated stands will regenerate into young forest habitat and improved growing stock.
The goals of these town forests are already being realized. During the school year, students from the Milan Village School are out on the forest weekly. Out-of-state and local hunters use the forests for a variety of upland hunting, and economic benefit to the towns has been documented. Milan Community Forest Committee Chairman George Pozzuto considers the town’s collaboration with NRCS and RGS very successful. “We’re looking forward to continuing our relationship into the future,” he said. Both these town forests can serve as examples for other communities considering how to conserve land and traditional uses in their locales while contributing to conservation of the larger landscape.