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Harris Center, Monadnock Conservancy celebrate milestones

HANCOCK — It was the sale of a treasured childhood retreat that got Eleanor Briggs active in land conservation.

In 1966, she learned her father had sold the land around her grandparents’ summer cottage on King’s Highway in Hancock to a developer. She had fond memories of spending time there, wandering in the woods and finding solace in nature.

Worried it would be subdivided and sold off, she decided to start buying it back. “I woke up in a fit of anxiety one morning sort of picturing skyscrapers around Norway Pond,” she said at an event last month.

Briggs, now a Hancock resident, founded the Harris Center for Conservation Education there in 1970. Named after her cat Harris, the center has since led countless educational programs and outings and protected thousands of acres of land in Hancock and the surrounding towns.

The Harris Center — which last month kicked off a yearlong commemoration of its 50th anniversary next fall — is one of two local conservation organizations celebrating a milestone. This month, the Monadnock Conservancy turns 30.

The stories of the two nonprofits, though distinct, have some common threads. Concerns about development helped motivate their founding. They matured from efforts led by relatively green volunteers into more professional operations. Their missions have evolved and broadened. And their stories are a reminder that conservation isn’t just about land, but about people’s connection to it.

“You’re gonna get, a lot of times, some sort of family story” when you ask why someone preserved their land, said Rick Church of Nelson, a former board member of the Monadnock Conservancy who remains involved with the organization. “You know, ‘My family’s owned this place for four generations. We started coming here summers. This is where I grew up as a kid. I used to run in these woods. My grandkids are now running in these woods. I want my great-grandchildren to be able to run in these woods.’

“When you ask people why they did something nice,” he added, “you’re gonna get a very rewarding story.”

Working in concert

Various entities work to preserve land in the Granite State, from The Nature Conservancy and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests to local and regional groups. Ryan Owens, the executive director of the Keene-based Monadnock Conservancy, said the different players cooperate and complement one another.

“We all occupy unique enough mission spaces or geographic spaces that it’s usually pretty clear who ought to take the lead in a particular project,” he said.

For example, the Forest Society has extensive holdings on Mount Monadnock, much of it leased to the state for Monadnock State Park.

“When opportunities come up for additional conservation, building off the block that is Mount Monadnock, any of us operating in this region are going to look to the Forest Society to take the lead there,” Owens said. “It just makes a lot of sense. The Harris Center, for example, has their ‘SuperSanctuary’ around Hancock and Harrisville and Nelson, and one of their top priorities is building out this important block of wildlife habitat.”

That sanctuary is a 35,000-acre network of “clustered protected lands” in those and other nearby towns. It includes about 23,000 acres that the Harris Center has been directly responsible for protecting, through conservation easements — legally binding agreements restricting future development — and other means.

A major goal of the program is to protect large contiguous blocks of habitat that provide, as the center’s website puts it, “room to roam.”

At first, however, conservation wasn’t a focus of the center, which Briggs founded as an environmental education organization.

“It started out really with trying to create an organization that would lure us, convince us, cajole us into falling in love with where we live, becoming aware of it and starting to enjoy it,” she said at the Harris Center’s annual meeting last month. “Really having a good time in nature. So that we would then be committed to wanting to really protect what we have.”

The center’s second director, H. Meade Cadot, conceived the SuperSanctuary out of concern for bobcats, fishers and other wildlife, Briggs told The Sentinel recently. “We began to think about protecting contiguous pieces of land, so that it would add up to a huge amount of open space for wildlife,” she said.

The Harris Center started its land trust program in the 1980s with 3,000 acres in several areas, according to its website. It expanded by adding abutting land and connecting different blocks. Today, the sanctuary encompasses mountains, lakes, rivers, wetlands and more than 20 acres of hiking trails.

“It’s a very special part of New England, and I think the Harris Center helped keep it that way,” she said.

Briggs said it has been gratifying to see the organization continue and grow thanks to the contributions of “hundreds of people.” The annual meeting on Oct. 20, attended by dozens, featured a video tribute to Briggs and a half-hour interview in which she reflected on the center’s early days.

The Harris Center is celebrating its 50th with various events over the next year, including talks and outdoor outings.

30 years of conservation

The founding of the Monadnock Conservancy, in November 1989, was motivated by both concern and a sense of opportunity, as co-founder Betsey Harris of Peterborough tells it.

Some in the Monadnock Region were eyeing the development in the Nashua area with unease. “We’d been sort of protected by Temple Mountain,” Harris, then a Dublin resident, said. “But we had the feeling it was going to come flowing over Temple Mountain and ruin this part of the world.”

Meanwhile, a few years earlier, the N.H. Legislature had established the Land Conservation Investment Program to provide grants for conservation projects. As a result, Harris said, many communities identified parcels that were important to them — but not all got state funding.

“So there was a lot of land around that people had really focused on and knew they wanted to protect, but didn’t have the state to do that for them,” she said.

Harris founded the Conservancy with fellow Dublin residents Abe Wolfe and Bruce McClellan. Harris and her husband, John, donated the first conservation easement in 1991, protecting a property on Page Road known as Stonewall Farm.

According to the easement agreement, the 79.5 acres contained a seven-acre pond, more than a mile of Stanley Brook, a view of Mount Monadnock and “the foundations of Samuel Twitchell’s saw and grist mill, known to have been in existence in 1768.”

The Conservancy initially focused on the towns immediately surrounding Mount Monadnock. A Forest Society employee lent her expertise to help the group get going. For a while, they met in people’s homes. Harris said their first office was a primitive second-floor space in Dublin. “We ran up our electric wires through a hole in the floor.”

The organization evolved, shaped by people who joined the board or served on staff. “The guy who really put us on the map was Dick Ober,” she said of the Dublin resident who directed the Conservancy in the 2000s before becoming head of the N.H. Charitable Foundation.

Today, the Monadnock Conservancy has offices in Keene. It covers all of Cheshire County, the western part of Hillsborough County and recently added four towns in southern Sullivan County — Acworth, Langdon, Lempster and Washington — that were not in the service area of any regional land trust, according to executive director Owens.

He said the organization has conserved more than 21,000 acres since 1989.

One of the Conservancy’s focuses in recent years has been farmland conservation. “As an organization, we’ve recognized the specialness of the Monadnock Region’s farms, and the fact that they’re fairly highly threatened by just the difficulty of the business of farming,” Owens said.

Retiring farmers may not be able to find family members or buyers who want to keep working the land, leaving them no option but to sell to developers. By buying a conservation easement that allows continued agricultural use but restricts development, the Conservancy can provide farmers cash to retire or pay down debts, while ensuring the land keeps its character, Owens said.

Another relatively new factor is climate change. The Nature Conservancy has researched the characteristics that make landscapes best able to adapt, and the Monadnock Conservancy is starting to use that data, Owens said. “We are looking a little bit more strategically at conserving lands that are likely to be most resilient to the changes to the climate.”

The organization is also looking at new ways to bring nature closer to people, like working with the Winchester Learning Center to create a small nature park near the daycare.

“This is not the kind of traditional, deep-out-into-the-hinterlands conservation project that we would work on,” Owens said. “But it happens to be a patch of greenspace, of undeveloped space, right next to a school where kids are potentially benefiting from time in the outdoors in their early childhood development.”

Ultimately, the Conservancy depends on support from people, Owens said, and has to stay relevant.

“People now, I think, are more motivated by conserving nature for people’s sake, beyond just nature’s sake,” he said. “So for the good of children. For the good of community health. For the good of mental health. For the good of the character of a community and the culture of a community.”

Netflix, HBO and cable giants are coming for password sharing

A coalition that includes Netflix, HBO and cable-industry titans is stepping up efforts to crack down on password sharing, discussing new measures to close a loophole that could be costing companies billions of dollars in lost revenue each year.

Programmers and cable-TV distributors are considering an array of tactics to cut off people who borrow credentials from friends and relatives to access programming without paying for it. The possible measures include requiring customers to change their passwords periodically or texting codes to subscribers’ phones that they would need to enter to keep watching, according to people familiar with the matter.

Some TV executives want to create rules governing which devices can be used to access a cable-TV subscription outside the home. While someone logging in from a phone or tablet would be fine, someone using a Roku device at a second location could be considered a likely freeloader, one person said.

If none of those tactics work, pay-TV subscribers could someday be required to sign into their accounts using their thumbprints.

“I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall,” Tom Rutledge, the chief executive officer of Charter Communications Inc., said during an earnings call last month. “It’s just too easy to get the product without paying for it.”

But taking more aggressive measures poses risks. The people using services for free — especially younger consumers — may never agree to sign up for a subscription, no matter how many hassles they endure. That means companies would mostly just be alienating paying customers, who could get frustrated and stop using an app or cancel their service. In other words, there’s plenty of downside and possibly little upside.

“If you ask any cohort of young people if they will ever pay for Netflix or video services, the answer is unequivocally no,” said Mike McCormack, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities.

The pay-TV industry is projected to lose $6.6 billion in revenue from password sharing and piracy this year, according to Parks Associates. By 2024, the number could grow to $9 billion, the research firm said.

Two years ago, some of the biggest names in entertainment and technology formed a group called the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, which was devoted to reducing online piracy. Last month, the group announced that it’s turning its attention to password sharing. Participants include Netflix, Amazon.com, Walt Disney Co., Viacom, AT&T’s HBO, Comcast and Charter.

There’s no consensus on where to draw the line.

Consumers can access streaming programming via apps from both distributors like Charter and programmers like Fox. As a result, both sides of the industry need to work together to solve the problem. Charter, which sells cable-TV service under the Spectrum brand, has said its recent distribution deals with Fox and Disney will help them address password sharing, but didn’t specify which measures they’d be taking.

While industry executives widely agree password sharing is a problem, there’s no consensus on where to draw the line. Programmers and distributors blame each other for being too lenient in how many people can simultaneously stream from one account. DirecTV and Comcast allow five streams. Fox and ESPN generally allow three.

Online TV services also vary in how generous they are about password sharing. Apple TV+, which launched Nov. 1, allows up to six people to stream from one family plan. Two upcoming services — AT&T’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock — aren’t ready to announce how many streams to allow, according to representatives for both companies. A spokeswoman for Disney+, which launches Nov. 12, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Netflix allows just one stream for its basic plan and four streams for its most expensive service. Three years ago, CEO Reed Hastings said password sharing is “something you have to learn to live with, because there’s so much legitimate password sharing — like you sharing with your spouse, with your kids.”

Recently, there have been indications that the company may be reconsidering its tolerance. On an earnings call last month, Netflix Chief Product Officer Greg Peters said it is “looking at the situation” and seeking “consumer-friendly ways to push on the edges of that.”

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Dental board examines Wullbrandt allegations

CONCORD — The N.H. Board of Dental Examiners heard testimony Friday involving allegations of professional misconduct by a Keene pediatric dentist.

The allegations against Dr. Blake C. Wullbrandt include claims that he overused physical restraints, performed too much dental work in single appointments, kept deficient records and obtained insufficient informed consent for some procedures at his practice, Children’s Dental Care on Railroad Street.

The N.H. Board of Dental Examiners outlined the allegations in an August notice.

Friday’s day-long hearing was occupied entirely by the testimony of Dr. Nilfa Collins, a pediatric dentist and dental board member who recused herself last year to serve as an investigator in the case.

The board is determining whether Wullbrandt committed professional misconduct and, if so, what sanctions are warranted. The hearing will continue Dec. 2, when Wullbrandt and other witnesses are expected to testify on his behalf. Wullbrandt declined to comment on Friday’s testimony.

Wullbrandt’s New Hampshire license to practice dentistry was issued in 2001.

The dental board began its investigation after receiving a referral from the N.H. Attorney General’s Office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit in March 2018. The office was investigating possible “abuse/neglect” of patients at Wullbrandt’s practice, according to letters sent to parents in 2017, but closed its inquiry without criminal charges.

In conducting her investigation for the dental board, Collins testified that she had reviewed patient records, billing records, statements by parents and other materials.

She said she found deficiencies in Wullbrandt’s recordkeeping in multiple cases. She testified his clinical notes would mention that a papoose board — a type of physical restraint — was used, but not why or for how long. There were similar gaps in notes about the use of nitrous oxide, a mild sedative, and some records omitted x-rays that had been performed, according to Collins. The prevailing best practices call for those things to be recorded, she said.

Informed consent — parents’ understanding and agreeing to the procedures the dentist will use — was not always documented, she said.

Collins added that during a May 2019 visit to Wullbrandt’s office, she reviewed more recent records and found “a huge improvement.”

“The correct consents were obtained,” she said. “… It looked like he was doing what he was supposed to be.”

One of the allegations in the August notice is overuse of the papoose board. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s standards say dentists can use restraints, or “protective stabilization,” to keep a child from moving around too much during a procedure. Collins said when a papoose board is used, it should be only for a short time.

Janice K. Rundles, an attorney with the state’s administrative prosecutions unit, asked if Wullbrandt was restraining kids with the papoose board for too long.

“I can’t be a judge of that because he didn’t write down how long,” Collins said. But based on the amount of work performed on some patients, she said, she “can’t see that being a short amount of time.”

She said that, according one mother, a child ended up with “scrapes and broken skin” on her hands and wrists. In response, according to Collins’ testimony, Wullbrandt acknowledged that the papoose board can cause “rugburn-type injuries.”

Rundles asked about appointments with seven different patients between July 2014 and June 2017. Collins said she judged the amount of work Wullbrandt did during each of those appointments excessive, including a 2-year-old who received crowns on 12 teeth and four pulpotomies — a procedure that involves removing some tissue.

“Just the amount of restorative work just really blew my mind,” Collins said.

Though the current allegations involve incidents after 2013, the board had raised similar issues with Wullbrandt before, according to Collins’ testimony. She cited several “letters of concern” the board sent the dentist between 2006 and 2018 about topics including his use of restraints, recordkeeping and the amount of dentistry work he performed in one appointment.

Beginning after the lunch break, Wullbrandt’s attorney Cinde Warmington grilled Collins for more than two hours, challenging her interpretations of particular records and her conclusions about Wullbrandt’s treatment decisions.

“So that’s your treatment philosophy,” Warmington said at one point, referring to Collins’ contention that too much dental work was performed in some appointments. “And Dr. Wullbrandt’s treatment philosophy is to limit the difficult visits to one longer visit, than to have the child come back multiple times.”

In one appointment, for instance, Warmington said Wullbrandt’s clinical notes show the child got a little fussy but generally behaved well. Warmington pressed Collins on her conclusion that the work went on too long.

“There wasn’t any reason why Dr. Wullbrandt needed to stop,” the lawyer said. “This was — this child did fine.”

“Well, you know what, that’s subjective,” Collins said. “I wasn’t there. I didn’t see.”

Warmington said that in at least some cases, the parents signed off on the treatment plan outlining the procedures. She acknowledged the past issues with Wullbrandt’s recordkeeping but said he always talked to parents and got verbal consent, even where that wasn’t documented.

Warmington also said her client is often referred patients who have extreme dental needs or behavioral issues.

And she contended that parents’ complaints about Wullbrandt were sparked by the publicity around his “struggle with alcoholism,” which came to light in 2017 when the dental board publicly alleged he had practiced while impaired. Wullbrandt later agreed to a one-year suspension of his license to settle the allegations.

“Some parents even said that they are now concerned, now that they read about his alcoholism, they are now concerned about the care that their child had,” Warmington said.

At the outset of Friday’s hearing, Warmington argued that Collins had a conflict of interest because she plans to open a pediatric dentistry practice in Dublin early next year, potentially competing with Wullbrandt’s Keene business.

Collins, who previously practiced in Pelham, rejected the assertion. She said her business plans are unrelated to the Wullbrandt case.