Forest Society letter to DRED addresses Mount Sunapee expansion

This week in a letter (Feb. 23, 2105) to DRED Commissioner Jeffrey Rose, the Forest Society addressed the proposed expansion at Mount Sunapee, stating in part:

  • “Our review suggests that the Resort’s expansion proposal directly conflicts with the State’s legal obligation to protect exemplary natural communities.”
  • “In addition, ecologists we have consulted advise that the sustainability of this exemplary natural community system within the State Park is directly linked to what happens on land within the larger landscape.”
  • “The original reason that the Forest Society started protecting Mt. Sunapee in 1911, and assisted in its eventual transfer to the State, was to ensure that the ancient forests on its slopes be protected for posterity.  As the current steward of this public treasure, DRED should continue the work started in 1911 and use its authority to sustain the ecological health of these forests within the State Park.”

Read the letter in full via: www.forestsociety.org/feb-23-2015-letter-commissioner-rose

Download/view accompanying Forest Society maps via: www.forestsociety.org/resource/mount-sunapee-maps

February 23, 2015

Commissioner Jeffrey Rose
NH Department of Resources & Economic Development
172 Pembroke Road
PO Box 1856
Concord, NH  03302-1856

Dear Commissioner Rose:

This letter is to supplement the Forest Society’s written comments of September 22, 2014 concerning the proposed ski expansion at Mount Sunapee State Park.   Since September there have been two new developments which inform our thinking on the issue at hand, the Mount Sunapee Resort proposal in its June 2014 Master Development Plan to expand its present ski operation at the State Park into the so-called “west bowl” of the Mountain, onto land within the State Park boundary and onto private land adjacent to the State Park.

The first new development concerns the lease reformation ordered by the Merrimack County Superior Court in April 2014, a map of which DRED publicly released for the first time last week.  The second development is a new report from the DRED Natural Heritage Bureau released two weeks ago which depicts a system of ecologically significant natural communities within the State Park.

The significance of the court ordered lease reformation is that it adds 167 acres to the original 968 acre lease area (see Map 1 enclosed), acreage directly abutting private land owned by Resort operator Tim Mueller through a limited liability corporation known as Sunapee Land Holdings LLC.  This new, larger lease area eliminates the buffer zone that previously existed between the original lease area and the State Park boundary.  Some believe this opens the State Park to expanded skiing far beyond the intent and scope of the State’s original lease with the Resort.

We applaud you for asking the Natural Heritage Bureau to complete the analysis it started in 2004 on the ecology of the West Bowl area, and we thank you for sharing this addendum to the 2004 Bureau report with us.  We have had an opportunity to review the Bureau’s work with our own staff and with independent ecologists.  Our review suggests that the Resort’s expansion proposal directly conflicts with the State’s legal obligation to protect exemplary natural communities.

The significance of the Natural Heritage Bureau addendum to its 2004 survey of the west bowl area is that it for the first time delineates a 486 acre Exemplary Northern Hardwood-Conifer Forest Natural Community System (see Map 2 enclosed).  The proposed ski expansion appears to directly encroach upon this system (see Map 3 enclosed).  Furthermore, it appears that the existing ski operation has already encroached upon the exemplary natural community system as delineated (see Map 4).   Clearly the upper third of the proposed expansion would significantly disrupt the exemplary system of natural communities on and around the summit of Mount Sunapee (see Map 5) within the State Park.

In addition, ecologists we have consulted advise that the sustainability of this exemplary natural community system within the State Park is directly linked to what happens on land within the larger landscape.   The larger landscape (see Map 6) includes thousands of acres of conserved land within the Pillsbury –Sunapee Highlands region that has taken more than a century to establish.  In part, these lands were protected to further enhance the forest resources growing on the topographic peak of the region, Mount Sunapee itself.

The NH Native Plant Protection Act (RSA 217-A:7) states that the State has an obligation to protect such exemplary systems of natural communities when actions are proposed that place the continuance of these communities in jeopardy.  Because the decision concerning the Resort’s proposal is clearly in DRED’s authority, and because the impacted land is owned and managed by DRED as a State Park, it is essential for the State to act in a manner that conserves the exemplary system of natural communities identified by the Natural Heritage Bureau.

We continue to believe that there are a number of questions regarding the proposed ski expansion that remain unanswered, questions which we identified in our earlier comments. But the Natural Heritage Bureau’s recent report answers the open question concerning the forests of Mount Sunapee State Park.  The original reason that the Forest Society started protecting Mt. Sunapee in 1911, and assisted in its eventual transfer to the State, was to ensure that the ancient forests on its slopes be protected for posterity.  As the current steward of this public treasure, DRED should continue the work started in 1911 and use its authority to sustain the ecological health of these forests within the State Park.

Thank you for your consideration of these additional comments.

Sincerely,

Jane A. Difley, President/Forester

cc:  w/ enclosures:

Phil Bryce, Director, DRED Division of Parks & Recreation
Nancy Marashio, SPNHF Member of the Mount Sunapee Advisory Committee
Brad Simpkins, Director, DRED Division of Forests & Lands

 

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