PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has been awarded a $2,905,000 grant from the USDA Forest Service Forest Legacy Program to protect 716 acres of forest in the Scituate Reservoir watershed from conversion to other uses.
"For generations, Rhode Islanders have enjoyed the magnificent forested areas throughout Rhode Island that have been preserved through the Forest Legacy program,' said DEM Director Janet Coit. "These protected lands provide important wildlife habitats and green space and enhance the character of the local communities. We're thrilled to receive this new grant to preserve prime forestland in the Scituate Reservoir watershed."
Since 2017, DEM has been working with the Providence Water Supply Board, Northern RI Conservation District, and land trusts in the watershed communities to identify and protect important tracts of forestland in the watershed. This new funding will help protect an additional 14 tracts of land in the Scituate Reservoir watershed, each of which helps to provide critical resource and habitat connectivity. The parcels will remain privately owned but will have the added protection of conservation easements to ensure long-term forest presence. In order to be eligible for grant support, parcels must be located within the Scituate Reservoir watershed in the towns of Foster, Glocester, and Scituate, be privately owned, be larger than 25 acres in size, and contain significant forest values.
Rhode Island is the Ocean State, but forests cover more than 50 percent of the state. Most Rhode Island forest land is owned by private citizens who face increased pressure to develop it for other uses. The state's forests are vital for providing clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, use for outdoor recreation, and economic benefits. According to a 2019 report by Tom Sproul of the University of Rhode Island, titled "The Economic Impact of Rhode Island's Forestry and Wood Products Sector," Rhode Island's commercial loggers and arborists, Christmas tree farms, forest consultants, sawmills, wood products manufacturers, woodland owners, and woodworkers generated 2,496 jobs and $408 million of gross sales in 2016. Including spillover effects across all sectors of the Rhode Island economy, the sector contributed $716.4 million to the state's economy and 4,844 jobs, according to the URI study.
The federal Forest Legacy Program was established in the 1990 Farm Bill to protect environmentally important forestlands that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses. The program is administered by the U.S. Forest Service in partnership with state agencies to encourage the protection of privately-owned forest lands through conservation easements or land purchases. Since its inception, DEM has protected 3,600 acres of forest in 22 parcels in Rhode Island.
The goal of program is to prevent the conversion of forest to other uses non-forest uses by purchasing conservation easements from private landowners who will keep their property in a forested state. The most common threats are from development or through fragmentation whereby large forested parcels are divided into smaller parcels, making sustainable forest management difficult. Most of Rhode Island's forest is privately owned, most own small parcels, many of them less than 10 acres.
For additional information about the Forest Legacy program, contact Gregg J. Cassidy, DEM's Forest Legacy program coordinator, at 222-4700, X4310, or via email at Gregg.firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on DEM programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) or Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM for timely updates.