By RHODE ISLAND WOODLAND PARTNERSHIP
Rhode Island’s forestlands are being lost to residential, commercial, and other non-forest land uses at an alarming rate. The extent of forests in Rhode Island decreased by about 10,000 acres between 1998 and 2007. This has resulted in our forests being fragmented into smaller, disconnected tracts with the subsequent loss of important economic and community benefits that Rhode Island forests provide.
Rhode Island is losing forestland more rapidly than any state, with about 48 percent of forestland outside of the state’s urban areas in 2000 projected to be subsumed by urban growth by 2050.
We believe that preventing the loss and fragmentation of Rhode Island’s forestland is a critical aspect of protecting natural resources, especially drinking water, and the social and economic values of Rhode Island. We encourage and promote the protection of the remaining intact forest cover in Rhode Island through the application of policies that discourage further fragmentation and encourage development patterns that conserve the landscape.
Specific actions to protect our remaining forest acreage from loss and fragmentation by poorly-planned and poorly-sited development should include:
No state or local policy should result in and/or encourage the loss of forestland. State Guide plans and town comprehensive plans have been developed and must be followed by state law.
Smart growth land-use techniques, such as the transfer of development rights, conservation development and village zoning, and the use of low-impact development can all help accommodate development while preserving forestland.
Encourage bond initiatives that are needed to meet the match requirements for state and federal programs to cost share purchasing the development rights to forestland.
Encourage the application of recommended current-use values as a tool to conserve forest and prevent its conversion to more intensive land uses.
Increase funding for landowner education and technical assistance through Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s divisions of Forest Environment and Fish and Wildlife, along with the University of Rhode Island’s Cooperative Extension Service, which are charged with managing state-owned forests and supporting private landowner conservation activities. Private woodland owners own 72 percent of Rhode Island’s forested area.
Forest products contribute an estimated $710 million annually to the Rhode Island economy and support more than 3,300 jobs. Recognize and integrate the economic value of Rhode Island’s forest products into state economic-development policies and programs.
Encourage the use of local forest products to encourage landowners to maintain and properly manage their woodlands.
State forestlands should be used to demonstrate how trees can be properly harvested to sustain a healthy forest and maximize forest functions and values.
Climate-change policies and actions should recognize the role that forests play in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, moderating temperatures, storing carbon, helping to manage stormwater, moderate streamflow, and prevent flooding from major storm events.
Community comprehensive plans should identify and map prime forestlands and include land-use policies that encourage no net loss and prevent fragmentation.
Zoning should be amended to allow forestland owners to establish eco-friendly accessory business uses on their land to reduce development pressure and maintain forest values.
The Rhode Island Woodland Partnership works to increase the impact of forest conservation efforts through coordination and information sharing among partners.