Is logging necessary because of N.H.'s self-funding system for parks?

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New Hampshire is the only state whose state park funding system is totally self-funded, relying entirely on user fees to meet the needs of its operating and capital expenditures budget. The New Hampshire State Legislature discontinued general funding for the state park system in 1991.

According to a 2010 study conducted by the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College, in nearby Vermont and New York, the state park systems have twice as many employees per 1,000 acres as New Hampshire and Vermont spends more than three times as many dollars per acre as New Hampshire does, notes the study.

"[T]he New Hampshire State Park System must sometimes begin the fiscal year with a budget deficit from the previous, preventing it from reinvesting in its parks, and possibly forcing services and recreational opportunities to be reduced," states the report. "With fewer services and recreational opportunities, park attendance is likely to decrease further, establishing a feedback loop of decreased attendance and quality."

"The self-funding model is not working," wrote Amy Manzelli, an attorney with BCM Environmental Land Law, in a 2012 letter to the National Park Service on behalf of the Friends of Pisgah. "Since 1991, when the state adopted the self-funding model, to 2011, the Division of Parks and Recreation has operated at a loss of over $9.5 million over the entire period."

When the state's parks budget was slashed and a self-funding model was adopted, more and more of the maintenance and improvement activities were picked up by the Friends of Pisgah with the state's blessing. Over the years, FOP has worked hard on providing the missing support — maintaining trails, keeping maps at the trail heads, opening the Visitor Center and Museum, providing educational programs and many other activities that improve visitors' recreational experience in the park. These activities have been welcomed by the state and have helped fill a void.

When commercial logging was first suggested during the development of the recent management plan for Pisgah, some members of FOP objected. They were told by the state that if they continued their objection, they would be prevented from performing their volunteer services in the park. As a result, some FOP members resigned from the group to help form Pisgah Defenders.

In fiscal year 2016, Pisgah State Park lost $31,000, and in 2017 it lost $48,000. But that loss doesn't tell the full story, wrote William Guinn, the current Administrator of the Forest Management Bureau, in an email to the Reformer. Though Pisagh is now under the authority of the Division of Forests and Lands, the Division of Parks and Recreation also contributes to Pisgah's upkeep.

"While Pisgah may appear to operate in the red when examined alone, when you look at Parks as whole, they are in the black and revenues from other more developed parks, such as Monadnock, Greenfield, Bear Brook, Pawtuckaway and Hampton, more than cover the cost of Pisgah and other less developed parks," he wrote.

According to a 2017 report issued by the State Parks System Advisory Council, the fees collected at 37 of the state's 93 properties support the operation of the entire park system with 25 of those parks having a positive cash flow. Those 93 properties bring $500 million a year to the state and support 8,000 jobs, according to the 2019–2023 N.H. Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

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A portion of all revenue — 13 percent — generated from timber sales on state reservations zoned as "forestry land" goes to the general fund. Guinn noted that nearly all of Pisgah is zoned as forestry land. The remainder of the revenue goes to dedicated accounts within the Division of Forests and Lands and is used to cover portions of the division's operational and program budgets.

"Forest and Lands is well over 50 percent self-funded from timber sale revenues and other income, such as tower leases, camp leases, etc. — generated on lands zoned as forestry land, wrote Guinn. "The Division of Parks and Recreation on the other hand is 100 percent self-funded from revenues generated from lands zoned as recreation land."

Guinn noted that recreation lands are areas, usually portions of state parks, sometimes the entire park and even portions of some state forests, with developed recreation, infrastructure and other amenities such as parking lots, bath houses, campsites, stores, beaches, etc., which usually have an entrance fee or use fee associated with them.

"An example would be Bear Brook State Park," wrote Guinn. "Bear Brook is a State Reservation, as all these properties are by state statute, of nearly 10,000 acres. However, only around 500 acres are actually zoned as recreation land.

The Division of Parks and Recreation charges an entrance fee and a fee for camping and also generates revenue at the stores.

Because of that, wrote Guinn, operations in Bear Brook State Park run in the black. The remainder of the 9,000-acres of Bear Brook State Park is zoned forestry land," wrote Guinn, despite a healthy network of trails which are considered dispersed recreation and common on most state reservations, including Pisgah, and is managed by the Division of Forests and Lands for timber, wildlife, recreation, protection of rare and fragile species and habitats and water quality.

"The revenue from timber harvests goes back to the Division of Forests and Lands and the revenue from recreation goes back to Parks and Recreation," he wrote. "Because Pisgah does not have any infrastructure, amenities, etc., other than dispersed recreation on trails, Parks does not charge an entrance or use-fee like at other parks, other than the voluntary iron rangers."

Guinn noted that while the overhead cost of running Pisgah is not significant, there is public demand to maintain staff on site, which is a significant cost, as is road maintenance.

"Forest and Lands does put money back into the park to maintain roads that get used for timber access and Parks does put some money into road maintenance through the registration fees the Trails Bureau receives from ATV and snowmobiles," Guinn wrote.


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