The Trust for Public Land has been awarded a $2 million grant from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, an independent authority created by the New Hampshire Legislature in June of 2000.

TPL is the initial buyer of the 171,500 acres of land in northern Coos County that International Paper put on the market earlier this year. The conservation organization plans to sell 146,500 acres of the land to Lyme Timber Co. with a conservation easement attached. The easement, along with the remaining 25,000 acres, which will be set aside as a natural area, will be financed by the state and federal government and private foundations.

The purpose of the program is to protect New Hampshire & #039;s heritage by supporting locally initiated land conservation and historic preservation projects.

In its first year of existence, the program had $3 million in matching grants to give away and received requests for 136 projects totaling more than $20 million. This $2 million grant for TPL represents half of the $4 million LCHIP has been allocated by the Legislature for its second round of grant awards it will begin considering in January.

"By committing this $2 million grant now, LCHIP is playing a critical role in helping to leverage additional state and federal funds for the project," said David Houghton, TPL & #039;s northern New England field office director. "This grant also underscores the state of New Hampshire & #039;s commitment to conserving the Connecticut Lakes region, which in turn will help the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, The Nature Conservancy and TPL raise private funds for the project."

The program & #039;s executive director Rachel Rouillard said this "off-cycle" grant to accommodate the timing of the purchase and sales agreement between TPL and International Paper may be followed by an additional request from TPL to be considered in LCHIP & #039;s second grant round.

Jane Difley, president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, acknowledged the $2 million grant for TPL "will significantly reduce the funds available for other community projects." She said this only underscores the need for the program to be fully and permanently funded.

"LCHIP has tremendous flexibility to respond to unforeseen and emerging conservation opportunities," said Difley. "Clearly the chance for New Hampshire to conserve nearly 4 percent of the state & #039;s land mass is such an opportunity for the state of New Hampshire, one that LCHIP has an appropriate role in facilitating."

SPNHF is a 10,000 member nonprofit organization founded in 1901 that has helped protect over 1 million acres of land in the state.

The projected revenue for the International Paper land purchase issued by Houghton last month shows the private landowner, Lyme Timber Co., spending between $12 million and $15 million, the federal government between $9 million and $12 million, the state between $8 million and $10 million, and private foundations contributing between $6 million and $8 million.

Gov. Shaheen and the Legislature have agreed to commit the state to bond up to $10 million to pay for its share of the conservation easement. U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg has secured $3.6 million in federal forest legacy funds. And U.S. Sen. Bob Smith has included $9 million in his federal wildlife bill, which would fulfill the project & #039;s expectations for federal funding.

But the projected price for the private landowner may be a problem. Lyme Timber Co. has indicated it would like to have the flexibility to subdivide the 146,000 acres it plans to purchase into five pieces which it would then sell to other timber companies. The company said it will expect a lower selling price if that flexibility does not exist.

The cost for the International Paper land is expected to come in between $34 million and $36 million. The total cost however, including reserve funds for road maintenance, stewardship and loss of income for the three communities of Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown where the land is located, is projected to be between $40 million and $45 million.

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