Clear-Cutting of Native Habitat at Quonset

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — It's reminiscent of the mass chopping of Truffula trees in Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax." 

About 100 acres of mostly undisturbed public land in the Quonset Business Park is being clear-cut to make space for prospective business tenants.

The clearing, including the leveling of hundreds of mature trees, is part of a master plan to make the business park more attractive to light industry and manufacturing.

According the Quonset Development Corporation (QDC), a quasi-state agency overseen by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, the land is owned by the Navy. A spokesman for the QDC said the wooded areas will be reduced to "pad-ready" grassy fields. Some trees are being spared. Permitting or an environmental review was not required for the clearing of trees, but the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and Coastal Resources Management Corporation must approve future construction.

The master plan for Quonset includes a bike path and four beaches within 686 acres of protected land.

Timber from the cleared land will be shredded for wood composting. Some 400 new trees and about 4,000 shrubs and grasses will be planted for landscaping in the office park and in "bio-retention" areas.

Jonathan Campanini of the Rhode Island Tree Council wasn't familiar with the Quonset land clearing, but said the state lacks a comprehensive forest conservation act.

"The goal of such an act is to save as many established trees as possible while still allowing building to proceed," he wrote in an e-mail. "This is the blind spot in DEM strategic planning and will come back to haunt Rhode Island in years ahead."

Big trees, and their canopies, he said, offer huge ecological and economic benefits through reduced energy use, carbon sequestering, and stormwater and pollution control.

"Sadly, because of both the political and economic climate in RI," Campanini wrote, "I believe we will have to lose a lot more of our spectacular tree resources before any action is taken to promote their retention during land development."