Providence, RI - Governor Lincoln Chafee and Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit today awarded $4.3 million in local open space matching grants to 15 communities, land trusts, and conservation organizations that will protect 900 acres of open space and farmland throughout the state. A number of state and municipal officials and representatives of land trusts and non-profit organizations attended the event in the Governor's State Room.
"I am pleased to join with Director Coit to award these important open space grants," said Governor Chafee. "Rhode Island is fortunate to enjoy unparalleled natural beauty. These grants will not only help us preserve and protect precious open space and farmland, but will also benefit one of our state's key economic assets: our tourism industry. I am proud that we will be preserving these beautiful spaces for Rhode Islanders to enjoy for generations to come."
"These grants represent another milestone in our efforts to help protect and preserve Rhode Island's open spaces and natural heritage," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "By protecting the farms, forests, shorelines, and open spaces that dot our landscape, we are enhancing the state's tourist economy by preserving lands that will be enjoyed by thousands of Rhode Islanders and visitors each year and making an important investment in the future of our beautiful state."
Funding comes from the 2004 $70 million Open Space, Recreation, Bay and Watershed Protection Bond, supplemented by $1 million re-programmed from the 2008 open space grant round. The state grants will be matched by local bond funds and federal grants to generate over $12.29 million in land preservation throughout Rhode Island.
The awards will protect such diverse and important resources as a 50-acre tract in the Queen River watershed situated in Exeter and South Kingstown, adding to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island's 1,100-acre Marion Eppley Wildlife Sanctuary; 84 acres of forested land in Johnston that is contiguous to the town forest and Johnston Memorial Park; and 72 acres of mature upland forest and forested wetlands that formerly were used as a summer camp in Westerly and which provide critical habitat for songbirds. Many of the properties are located in or adjacent to planned greenways throughout the state.
The grants provide up to 50 percent of funding, up to a maximum of $400,000, to preserve open space lands that possess significant natural, ecological, agricultural or scenic values, by direct purchase or conservation easements. Special consideration was given to projects that provide linkages between or expansion of existing preserved lands.
DEM received 30 applications for the current round of grants, which were reviewed and ranked by the Natural Heritage Preservation Advisory Committee with final awards made by the State Natural Heritage Preservation Commission. The Commission then recommended awards to DEM Director Janet Coit for review and approval. The grant requests totaled $7.72 million, almost two times the amount available during the current grant round. DEM is administering the grants.
Over the years these grant programs have not only resulted in the protection of hundreds of worthwhile projects – places used by residents and tourists alike for outdoor recreation – but have also contributed to the economic health of the state. These natural assets play a big role in the state's tourist economy by providing opportunities for the public to camp, fish, hunt, hike, and enjoy the great outdoors, and at the same time bring revenue to the local economy. According to the most recent statistics from the US Fish & Wildlife Service's National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (2006), residents and tourists spend over $378 million annually in Rhode Island on trip and equipment-related expenditures for fishing, hunting, and wildlife-watching activities.