Frequently Asked Questions
Commission Organization and Administration
No, a conservation commission is an advisory board. The of the commission purpose is to compile and distribute natural resource information to town boards and citizens. The commission does not have the power to approve or deny permits in their community. They must work with the select board or planning board to establish local regulations and to authorize enforcement. To review the powers and duties of a conservation commission see RSA 36-A: Powers.
Several statutes require conservation commissions to keep records of meetings and hearings. Most specific is the Right-To-Know Law, RSA 91-A:2, II.
Minutes should include:
- Name of the body and the kind of meeting, e.g., regular, special, subcommittee;
- Date, time,and place;
- Who attended (i.e., members, staff, others) and who presided;
- Approval of minutes of the previous meeting with additions or corrections noted;
- Summary of reports, discussion, and disposition of agenda items;
- Record of each vote, documenting if the motion passes or fails, including names of those making and seconding motions;
- Dates of future meetings scheduled;
- Time of adjournment.
A commission is required to hold a public hearing in accordance with RSA 675:7 before using money from the conservation fund to purchase land or easements. (RSA 36-A:5). The only other statutory mention of conservation commission public hearings is in RSA 482-A:11, in dredge and fill applications filed with Department of Environmental Services.
Generally speaking, any expenditure “for the proper utilization and protection of the natural resources and for the protection of watershed resources of said city or town” is a proper expenditure. Your NHACC membership dues are considered proper expenses. Review RSA 36-A:5 Appropriations Authorized to follow the appropriate steps. For more information on the use of the Conservation Fund, you can go to the Conservation Fund Guidebook.
RSA 36-A:4 Powers,commissions may receive gifts of money. When a town establishes a conservation commission, the town can create a conservation fund. The purpose of this fund is to allow people that want to promote a Town’s natural features to make financial donations, all of which are tax deductible. Conservation commissions can also accept donations of land, or interests of land (such as conservation easements).
The Conservation Fund is a municipal account created for conservation commission purposes and projects. The Forest Maintenance Fund is specifically allocated for the maintenance of lands that have been designated as Town Forests. The procedure for spending money from the Forest Maintenance Fund is different from the procedure for spending money from the Conservation Fund. For more information on the use of the Conservation Fund, you can go to the Conservation Fund Guidebook
Working With Local Boards
Conservation commissions as advisory boards have no regulatory control over development in their communities. As such, it is beneficial to have a close working relationship with the planning board in order to be involved in projects and offer comments and expertise. On individual subdivision applications, some planning boards routinely seek conservation commission views; other commissions offer recommendations as needed. Some planning boards have included an advisory role for the commission in local subdivision regulations. Conservation commissions can also propose local ordinances to the planning board or serve on a subcommittee tasked with creating a local ordinance.
There is no provision for a selectmen’s ex officio position on a conservation commission, See RSA 672:5 Ex Officio Member. "Ex Officio member" means any member who holds office by virtue of an official position and who shall exercise all the powers of regular members of a local land use board. Since the select board appoint the members of the conservation commission, they may choose to appoint a selectman as one of the members of that commission, but that person would not be an ex officio member, they would simply be a regular member who happens to be a selectman. However, some towns simply have select board reps that are not officially appointed members. They can attend meetings and report back to the select board but they cannot vote at conservation commission meetings.
All land acquired by a conservation commission is town or city property. It is important to note that municipal ownership alone does not guarantee that a parcel will be used for conservation purposes in perpetuity. To ensure the property will be protected as conservation land, commissions have found that either a deed restriction or an easement held by another conservation entity ensures that land will be used for conservation purposes. Such a clause or easement can cause the town governing body, in search of space for a parking, lot to look elsewhere.
A conservation commission may review a State wetlands permit application and seek more information or provide comments to NH Department of Environmental Services.
Having a conservation commission allows the town’s landowners to use the simpler and quicker Expedited Minimum Impact Wetlands Permit.
For more information regarding a DES Wetlands permit application in your community you can check the NH Dept. of Environmental Services One-Stop.
No. The conservation commission may review an application and decide not to comment or send a letter to NH Department of Environmental Services. The conservation commission may feel that they are qualified to comment or they may discuss the project and have no additional concerns or comments for NH DES.
NH Department of Environmental Services Wetlands Bureau designates prime wetlands. RSA 482-A:15 authorizes a municipality prepare a report to propose the prime wetland designation. After a conservation commission has prepared a report to designate the wetlands, they must hold a public hearing in accordance with RSA 675:7 prior to a town vote. If the town votes to accept the prime wetlands the report must be submitted to NH Wetlands Bureau. If a wetland permit has been submitted for work in a prime wetland the Wetland Bureau must hold a public hearing before approving the permit.
Land Protection and Stewardship
It’s best practice to have criteria for acceptance of any land protection project based on the natural resources found on the property. Consider the creation of a Natural Resource Inventory and/or Conservation Plan if you don’t have them. These documents will help your commission determine the most important areas for protection. Knowing what natural resources are in your municipality will help you to identify what is most important to protect. For more information review the NHACC Land Protection Criteria guide.
Conservation easement monitoring is a critical role for commissions and it is very important that you visit town owned properties and conservation easements annually. Volunteer commission members are a very good resource for monitoring conservation lands and with a bit of training, you can develop a good system to contact landowners and visit properties. Take a look at the resources listed on our website to help you with monitoring responsibilities. The NH Municipal Association has a good article on The Roles and Responsibilities of Municipalities in Monitoring and Enforcing Conservation Easements.
RSA 36-A:4 specifies that any interest in land acquired in the name of the municipality by the conservation commission be “managed and controlled” by the commission. A municipal governing or legislative body also may vote to authorize a conservation commission to manage other parcels of town-owned land for conservation purposes. When a commission has responsibility for a parcel, a concrete, individually designed, management plan or stewardship plan will be needed to ensure proper use of the land and protection of its unique natural areas.
Many conservation commissions have developed policies or ordinances that guide the permitted and prohibited use of town conservation land. These policies should be approved by the select board to ensure everyone is following the same rules for the protection of conservation lands. Common permitted uses include passive recreational activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and non-motorized boating.