TPL Presents Annual New England Volunteer Conservation Award

PORTSMOUTH, N.H., 7/10/2009: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, announced co-winners for the 2009 Annette and Kingsbury Browne Volunteer Conservationist of the Year award. Phil Auger and Mark Billings, both of New Hampshire were honored at a dinner last night in Portsmouth.

Phil Auger is honored for his work to secure conservation easements for the Isinglass River Conservation Initiative in Strafford, N.H. Mark Billings is honored for fundraising leadership to support protection of Page Pond Forest in Meredith, N.H.

Kingsbury Browne (1922-2005) was a long-time supporter and advisor to TPL in New England. He was a mentor, counselor, and advocate for land conservation, not only regionally, but nationally. Kingsbury enjoyed the enthusiastic support of his wife, Annette, who survives him today and resides in Kennebunkport, Maine. After Browne’s death in November 2005, TPL worked with Annette to establish the award, intended to honor a TPL volunteer who shares their enthusiasm and commitment to land conservation in the New England region.

Phil Auger, a UNH Cooperative Extension Educator and Strafford resident, supported a unique conservation approach that more than tripled the achievements of the Isinglass River Conservation Initiative, which originally focused on acquiring 287 acres containing 7,800 feet of frontage on the Isinglass River. Auger helped develop conservation donations or easements with three local landowners and the Strafford School Board to increase the total conserved to 868 acres.

“The Isinglass is a rare fishery and habitat corridor, and with Phil’s determination and persistence we are assured public access and preservation of a much greater contiguous landscape than we ever imagined,” said TPL Project Manager, Gregg Caporossi.

Of the hundreds of waterways in New Hampshire, the Isinglass River is one of only 14 rivers officially recognized by the Rivers Management and Protection Program for its outstanding natural and cultural resources. All of the properties conserved through this initiative are located within a 1,800-acre block of relatively intact forest through which the Isinglass River flows. Conservation of these parcels will help protect an important recreational fishery and travel corridor for wildlife, maintain water quality, and enhance opportunities for public access to the river. The purchase ensures that the land will remain as open space, and will never be developed.

“Phil is a wise and passionate conservation force for New England. As a forester and conservationist working in Rockingham County for the past 35 years, Phil’s advice and expertise is widely sought by communities, landowners and land trusts. But Phil doesn’t take off his conservation hat when he leaves work in the afternoon. Rather, his dedication and commitment are evident by the countless night meetings and weekend events that Phil regularly leads,” said Gregg Caporossi, TPL Project Manager.

Mark Billings, co-Chair of the Page Pond Leadership Campaign Committee, helped raise nearly $1 million from more than 400 individual donors to support the purchase and preservation of Page Pond and Forest, 567 acres of unfragmented forest in eastern Meredith. The land will now expand recreational opportunities as well as protect water quality for the Lake Winnipesaukee watershed.

“With Mark’s endurance, along with other avid volunteers, we achieved a stunning conservation success-for Meredith, for Lake Winnipesaukee, and for all New England to visit, enjoy, and appreciate,” said Gregg Caporossi, TPL project manager.

The Meredith Conservation Commission is making the Page Pond and Forest available to the public for year-round recreation, including hiking, cross country skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, bird watching, and nature appreciation. As a community owned and managed asset, public access and recreation will continue in perpetuity.

“Mark made his own financial commitment, but didn’t stop there,” said Betsy McGean, Campaign Director for TPL. “He recruited for the campaign committee, canvassed door-to-door, presented the opportunity to neighborhood associations, and more. He is a force of nature and we are all grateful to have found such a committed conservationist.”

Kingsbury Browne was an attorney and influential conservationist who inspired the founding of the Land Trust Alliance (LTA). LTA is dedicated to preserving open space, and provides expert assistance and resources to more than 1,500 local and regional land trusts around the country. Browne served for many years as general counsel to LTA. A native of Brookline, Mass., Browne retired as a partner at the Boston law firm of Hill & Barlow in 1991, and moved to Kennebunkport, Maine.

Annette Browne, a successful businesswoman and participant in philanthropic activities for many years in Boston, accompanied her husband on visits that took them to many of the newly formed land trust alliance organizations around the country. On many occasions, she supported Kingsbury’s open space preservation efforts, including welcoming a constant stream of visitors interested in discussing the open space preservation movement with Kingsbury at the Browne households in Brookline and Kennebunkport.

Rodger Krussman, the New Hampshire state director for TPL, attended the awards dinner in Portsmouth yesterday. “We are forever grateful to the long lasting conservation ethic of Annette and Kingsbury Browne, reflected admirably by our award winners this evening. Phil and Mark are in our debt-their commitment to the land is rare and worthy of this honor.”

The Trust for Public Land is a national non-profit organization dedicated to conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2.8 million acres of land in 47 states, including more than 390,000 acres in New England and 219,000 acres in New Hampshire. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission.