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May 13. 2013 8:28PM

Easement

With Wilkins Lumber land sale, the future is clear for 500 acres in Amherst, Mont Vernon


For eight generations members of the Wilkins family have harvested local timber to feed their sawmill in Milford. Now the family is hoping to preserve more than 500 acres of their land in Mont Vernon and Amherst to save it from development. Earle Rich photo 

Fourteen separate parcels of land in Amherst and Mont Vernon, owned for generations by the Wilkins family, are being preserved for timber and agricultural use through easements that will be held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

The Wilkins family, which has owned the Wilkins Lumber Company in Milford for eight generations, is selling five easements covering more than 500 acres in Mont Vernon and Amherst to the society to protect it from future development, according to Sally Wilkins.

Sally and her husband, Tom, run the lumber company, which has been part of the landscape since 1808 and has survived fire, the Great Depression, the devastating hurricane of 1938 and the recent recession.

Though the demand for local softwoods has decreased due to cheaper imports from Canada and overseas, the Wilkinses have managed to carve out a niche for themselves and have stayed afloat, Sally Wilkins said.

Throughout the last century, the Wilkins family has acquired a large amount of timberland scattered across the towns of Mont Vernon and Amherst, and for decades the family has looked for ways to set the land aside so that it could still be used for timber harvesting and agriculture, while alleviating the tax burden associated with owning so much property.

Currently, Sally and Tom Wilkins own all of that land, acquired through inheritance and agreements with other family members, so the timing was right for the Wilkins to partner with the society.

"We've been trying to get the land into permanent protection so that one generation won't have to sell it to pay for the estate taxes for the generation before," said Wilkins.

But preserving the land isn't just about taxes for the Wilkins family. It's a philosophy.

"Land does not equal money to this family," she said. "Land is a treasure as it stands, and we don't think the best thing to do with land is to put a house on it."

Leaving space open for wildlife and, of course, people, is vital to the health of New Hampshire, especially the southern part of the state where development pressures are the heaviest, Wilkins said.

According to Brenda Charpentier, communications manager for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Russell Farm and Forest Conservation Foundation has already established a $50,000 challenge grant to help raise the $190,000 needed for the easements.

Ian McSweeney, executive director of the Russell Foundation, said the Wilkins family's commitment to preserving the land over many generations was behind the foundation's decision to match donations dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000, through the grant.

"The family's protection of this land through their longterm stewardship and active management to provide lumber for this region speaks volumes as to how they view and treat the land," he said. "And the locations of these parcels add to existing conserved land in an area with high development pressure and in a part of the state where the majority of the population lives. People care a lot about what happens in their own back yards, and there are a lot of back yards impacted by this project."

For more information, visit www.forestsociety.org.

nfoster@newstote.com


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