Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
News : Recent Press Releases     Op-Ed     Publications     About the Legislative Press Bureau Printer Friendly View
3/20/2024 OP/ED: Action for Rhode Island’s forests
By Rep. Megan Cotter

I am proud to chair the forest management commission and bring some of our rural issues to the Capitol Hill. In addition to advocating for comprehensive forest management policies, I am also championing significant investments through the Green Bond fund to further enhance environmental conservation efforts across Rhode Island. This includes allocating $16 million for the Green Bond, with specific allocations of $5 million for farms, $5 million for open space preservation, $3 million for local open space initiatives and $3 million for forest management. 

By leveraging these resources effectively, we can ensure the protection of Rhode Island’s natural landscapes, promote sustainable agriculture, and enhance recreational opportunities for our residents. These investments are essential for preserving our state’s environmental heritage and ensuring a vibrant and resilient future for generations to come. 

The Forestry and Forest Parity Act (2024 H 7618) is already in place in the majority of states, including most of New England. This underscores the widespread recognition of the that proper forest management is critical to responsible conservation.

Forest management involves planning, identifying problems specific to that forest, and outlining the steps necessary to bring that forest back to health. Just like in a garden, where you may plant three seeds in a single hole and later thin seedlings so one healthy plant can thrive, forests benefit from judicious thinning. A well-maintained forest sequesters more carbon than one that is 25% dead trees.

The legislation is specifically designed, through the inclusion of income limits, to prevent exploitation of tax breaks by large commercial logging operations while supporting smaller, sustainable forestry practices. The protection applies to forest landowners with forest management plans.

The urgency of enacting comprehensive forest management policies after so many years of inattention by our state cannot be overstated, especially in light of recent developments. In 2023, Rhode Island experienced its largest forest fire since the 1950s, highlighting the critical need for proactive measures to mitigate wildfire risks, especially in rural towns like mine that have areas of dense forestation. Additionally, the devastating impact of the spongy moth epidemic, which has led to the death of 25% of Rhode Island’s trees, underscores the pressing need for action.

Moreover, it’s important to recognize the challenges faced by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). With budget constraints and staff cuts — its forestry staff has been slashed 75% since 1990 — DEM operates with very limited resources, hindering its ability to engage in proactive forest management. Currently, DEM is only able to address issues in a mere 1% of Rhode Island’s forests, leaving the majority of our woodlands vulnerable to threats.

In light of these challenges, the legislation I am championing, including the allocation of funds for forest and habitat management and the addition of new staff positions to DEM’s Division of Forestry, is aimed at bolstering our state’s capacity to address these critical issues. By working collaboratively with experts and stakeholders, we can develop comprehensive and sustainable forest management strategies that safeguard both our environment and our economy. These additional funds will complement the efforts outlined in the Forestry and Forest Parity Act, providing crucial support for various aspects of environmental stewardship. Furthermore, the allocation of $3 million specifically for forest management will bolster our capacity to address wildfire risks and combat threats such as the spongy moth epidemic.

The Forestry and Forest Parity Act, along with complementary legislation, represents a balanced approach to addressing the complex challenges facing our state’s woodlands, and I am committed to advocating for their passage for the benefit of all Rhode Islanders.

Rep. Megan L. Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Richmond, Hopkinton) is chairwoman of the Special Legislative Commission to Evaluate and Provide Recommendations on Proper Forest Management for Fire Prevention.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923