The Providence Journal

Opinion/Millar: Legislation to encourage forest conservation is long overdue

Apr. 17, 2021

What can provide Rhode Island with clean and safe air to breathe and water to drink, create jobs, fight climate change, moderate stifling hot temperatures, protect native wildlife, provide a multitude of recreational opportunities and add an invaluable sense of place to communities?

The answer is Rhode Island’s forests. Conserving them is essential to sustain our quality of life. That’s why we must act now to adopt the Forest Conservation Act to conserve what’s left of our forests before it’s too late.

Rhode Island is approximately 56% forested, an impressive figure in the second most densely populated state in the US.

Rhode Island’s forests have been referred to as the invisible green giant for too long. Meaning they provide immeasurable values but have been taken for granted as something that’s just a green backdrop until they are cleared for another use. However, the forest is an ecosystem where the sum of all its values is far greater than any single attribute no matter how impressive these attributes might be.  This was a key finding in “The Value of Rhode Island Forests,” a report by the Rhode Island Tree Council and Department of Environmental Management published in 2020. Grow Smart Rhode Island helped to coordinate the forest advisory committee that provided input into “The Value of Rhode Island Forests” report.

Rhode Island is approximately 56% forested, an impressive figure in the second most densely populated state in the US.  But our forests are being fragmented as they are cut into smaller segments at an alarming rate. Between 2011 and 2017 Rhode Island lost approximately 2,000 acres of our most important or core forest, which is unfragmented forest 250 acres and greater. As the forest continues to be fragmented some values are impaired and others can be lost completely.

The need to prevent forest conversion to other uses is critical. Trees are the best technology for carbon removal and according to the New England Forestry Foundation, the forests in New England have the potential to achieve 33% of our necessary carbon reductions to comply with our climate change targets.

Grow Smart Rhode Island respectfully urges the House and the Senate to adopt the Forest Conservation Act (H5760 and S470).  We commend the sponsors of this important legislation, Senators Frank Ciccione, Jonathon Acosta, Samuel Bell, Jeanine Calkin, Alana DiMario, Dawn Euer, Meghan Kallman, Frank Lombardo and Bridget Valverde as well as Representatives June Speakman, Terri Cortvriend, Susan Donovan, Lauren Carson, Arthur Handy and Teresa Tanzi for recognizing the time to act is now. We also commend the leadership of DEM to take on this challenging but critical goal.

We support the Forest Conservation Act for the following reasons:

The act clearly recognizes that forest land has many important values, cites these values and establishes policy that these values be maintained for future generations to enjoy. This is the first time that Rhode Island’s forest values have been recognized in state law. Other natural resources including but not limited to farms and wetlands have all been previously recognized.

The act establishes a broad based forest conservation commission to be staffed by DEM. The intent is to help land owners conserve forests in perpetuity, encourage better forest management, promote forest conservation as a means to mitigate climate change, create jobs in the forest products industry, and expand urban and community forestry programs.

The act uses incentives, not new regulations or restrictions, to encourage positive outcomes.

This will establish a strong foundation to improve forest conservation in Rhode Island.

Legislation to encourage forest conservation is long overdue. We must act now to pass the Forest Conservation Act or the special forest values that benefit all Rhode Islanders can be lost and gone forever. We need to stop the death by 1,000 cuts.

By Scott Millar
Scott Millar is director of community assistance and conservation at Grow Smart Rhode Island.