For centuries, people in rural communities have battled absentee landlords looking to extract wealth with little regard for local lands, jobs and customs. Coos County, the northernmost county in New Hampshire, is in such a battle with a 21st century twist — the landlord is one of the world’s most prestigious universities, publicly dedicated to “light and truth.”
Yale University is extracting significant wealth from Coos County — my home, and the community I was elected to represent. To do this it has used a shell corporation called Bayroot LLC, which owns large tracts of forest in Coos County and is 98.8 percent owned by Yale. Residents in my county are concerned that Yale’s land manager, Wagner Forest Management, has logged portions of these tracts to the point where there will be little harvestable timber for decades to come. Using a different shell corporation, Yale and its partners negotiated a tax agreement with the county that triggered a fiscal crisis for us.
Now Yale is enabling the development of Northern Pass, a 192-mile transmission line that will permanently scar Coos County and New Hampshire. This transmission line has met opposition across New Hampshire and New England. Yale is leasing land that would provide 24 miles of the project’s route, without which the overall project would not be possible. This transmission line would ruin farms that families have worked for generations. It would mar forests that we have depended on and enjoyed for centuries. It would decrease property values and challenge our vital tourism industry.
I and others have tried to engage the University with our concerns, but Yale has responded by threatening my arrest and locking its doors. This despite University President Peter Salovey’s recent declaration that Yale stands against the trend of “visitors with controversial views [who] have found themselves disinvited from or unable to speak on American college campuses.”
In May, I participated in a teach-in at Yale with an expert forester, a Yale alumna and a group of Coos County residents. Afterward, we joined a small group of students and walked to the office of the dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where I respectfully asked for a meeting to discuss Yale’s actions in New Hampshire. The dean was not there, and the Yale police called me the next day and informed me that I would risk arrest and incarceration if I came back to Yale’s campus.
Although I was not arrested when I returned in October with a group from New Hampshire, we faced locked doors at every turn. We planned to attend a talk that a vice president from Wagner Forest Management was scheduled to give and deliver a petition calling on Yale to stop Northern Pass.
When the Wagner vice president heard that residents from New Hampshire would be in the audience, he declined to give his talk. We later learned that Yale locked the doors to the buildings that house the School of Forestry and Environmental Science and required identification for entrance into these buildings. When we went to the Yale Investments Office to deliver the petition, we were barred from entering. Instead of responding to anyone directly, Yale reissued a statement, which emphasized that it has organized its investments into partnerships that limit Yale’s “ability to control decisions from both a legal and best practices perspective.”
This is troubling in many respects. Why would Yale, whose world-renowned investment manager is famous for his fondness for timber investments, not allow its equally renowned School of Forestry & Environmental Studies any say over the management of hundreds of thousands of acres of prime forestland in the United States and Canada? Why would Yale allow its land manager to sign a lease that will adversely affect people across New Hampshire and Quebec without consulting its faculty members who are experts in environmental justice? Why does Yale have two committees on investment responsibility if it insists that it has no responsibility for its investments?
Aldo Leopold, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies class of 1908, an acclaimed alumnus, famously argued, “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when on one else is watching — even when doing the wrong thing is legal.” For many years, Yale extracted wealth from our forests and allowed a lease that threatens to permanently damage our county while hiding behind a land manager and a shell corporation. When we learned Yale was behind Bayroot and Wagner, the University responded to our requests for dialogue by taking extraordinary actions to prevent it. In its only public statement, the University insists that it does not control decisions that are made about a property of which it owns 98.8 percent. These are the actions of an absentee landlord, not a University that is engaged in the ethical pursuit of light and truth.
Richard Samson is the county commissioner of Coos County’s 3rd District in northern New Hampshire. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .