UNH Study Finds Huge Support
For Preserving New Hampshire’s Open Space
June 15, 2004
Contact: Sharon Keeler
UNH Media Relations
DURHAM, N.H. -- Rapid growth and loss of open space may be the number
one problem facing New Hampshire towns, topping taxes and schools/quality
This is what the University of New Hampshire’s Center for
Integrative Regional Problem Solving (CIRPS) found when it surveyed
voters in communities across the
state that had considered major bond issues to finance land conservation projects
Voters in 29 communities across the state that spring considered proposals and,
according to the Center for Land Conservation Assistance, 13 envisioned borrowing
at least $1 million to preserve undeveloped land.
Proposals failed to gain a majority in a few towns, Barrington and Hampton, for
example, but most
communities approved their land conservation proposals by large
“The survey results suggest that open space is perceived by many voters
as a source of benefits broadly shared within the community,” says Richard
England, UNH professor of economics. “Open space seems to be a good example
of what economists call a ‘local public good.’”
In an effort to learn why New Hampshire citizens support or oppose local initiatives
to preserve open space, the UNH research team of England, Mark Ducey, associate
professor of natural resources, and Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey
Center, conducted a phone survey of nearly 500 voters who actually participated
in their community’s
balloting or meeting during March 2003.
People surveyed were randomly selected from the voter lists in the towns of Auburn,
Brentwood, East Kingston, Exeter, Hollis, Newington, Barrington, Durham, Errol,
Greenland, Hopkington and Rye. Preservation bond proposals ranged from $500,000
in Newington to $5 million each in Hollis, Hopkinton and Rye.
“What we found was striking,” Ducey says. “There was broad
support for spending on land conservation and this crossed political lines, age
and financial situation. It dispels the belief some might have that only wealthy
liberals see land preservation as a priority.”
In fact, when voters where asked what they like most about their town, nearly
half (47 percent) mentioned the open space, historical character, or natural
beauty . More than a quarter (27 percent) mentioned the sense of community.
Schools/quality of education was mentioned third (12 percent), close to job or
family ranked fourth (8 percent) and affordable taxes or housing ranked fifth
When asked what they liked least about their town, growth, sprawl and lack of
space tied with unaffordable taxes or housing (18 percent).
“In fact, growth, sprawl and lack of open space was cited as the number
one issue facing towns, followed by taxes and schools/quality of education,” Ducey
says. “This supports CIRPS’ recent analysis of the top 10 issues
facing rapidly growing communities in the state. Preserving New England character,
including a sense of community, growth management and conserving open space were
cited by many citizens as top priorities.”
Between 1982 and 1997, the Granite State’s population grew by nearly a
quarter, from 951,000 to 1,173,000, according to the N.H. Office of State Planning.
During the same period, the state’s developed land area grew by more than
half, from 379,000 to 589,000 acres and forested acreage from 1983 to 1997 declined
by 134,000 acres.
Those who opposed the land conservation proposal in their town fell into two
groups: those who believed the money could be used for other purposes, and those
who felt they could not afford additional property taxes to fund open space preservation.
Other important findings of the study: a majority of voters feel their towns
have grown too fast; almost two-thirds of voters believe preserving open space
is not an individual responsibility; and a large majority of all voters, whether
they supported or opposed their towns’ land conservation proposals, agreed
that environmental issues are important at the town level.
The Samuel P. Pardoe Foundation , the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the
Whittemore School of Business and Economics, and the Greater Piscataqua Charitable
Foundation providing funding for this study.
To get a copy of “A Summary of Voter Attitudes About Preserving
Open Space,” go to the CIRPS Web site: http://www.unh.edu/cirps