To the Editor,
Right now, there are no protections for Old Growth Forests in Rhode Island. Even on public land. Old Growth Forests are forests over 100 years old that have unique characteristics …
To the Editor,
Right now, there are no protections for Old Growth Forests in Rhode Island. Even on public land. Old Growth Forests are forests over 100 years old that have unique characteristics that make them ecologically distinct from any other forest in Rhode Island. Currently, only 1% of Rhode Island's forests are over 100 years old because of forest management practices which is logging.
This year, there is a bill in the General Assembly, the Old Growth Forest Protection Act H5344, introduced by Representative Evan Shanley, which would finally create protections for Old Growth Forests on public land. It would do this by prohibiting logging of Old Growth Forests on state and municipal owned land, require that surveys for Old Growth be conducted before logging operations take place on public land, and would require that no fewer than 15 Natural Area Preserves be designated this year. The Natural Areas Protection Act of 1993 RIGL 42-122 is a state law that mandates the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to designate Natural Area Preserves to protect Rhode Island’s most environmentally sensitive areas in their natural state including habitats where rare and endangered species live. DEM has never designated one Natural Area Preserve in the last 30 years. Therefore, all state land is open to logging. When I brought the law to DEM’s attention in October 2022, they claimed to have forgotten the law existed. It is now April, and the Natural Areas Preserve system still hasn’t been created. My follow up emails to DEM since November have gone ignored.
Therefore, in the Sub A to the Old Growth Forest Protection Act H5344, the RI Natural Heritage Program would be the ones designating the Natural Area Preserves and surveying for Old Growth Forests before logging operations because DEM clearly doesn’t consider Old Growth Forests or native biodiversity a priority.
This is further confirmed by the defunding of the Natural Heritage Program in 2007 by DEM and the Nature Conservancy. From 1978-2007, the Rhode Island Natural Heritage Program was responsible for identifying, monitoring, and protecting native biodiversity, rare forest ecosystems, and rare and endangered natural species. So, for the past 16 years, no one in the state has been doing this important work.
The RI Natural Heritage Program mapped areas with unique ecological characteristics such as rare plants and endangered animals. These very special natural areas became the Natural Heritage Areas. They were supposed to be designated as Natural Area Preserves and permanently protected in their natural state, but these rare areas were never designated or protected.
It is time to bring the Natural Heritage Program back, and the Sub A to the Old Growth Forest Protection Act H5344 would do that by defining the Natural Heritage Program in state law as a separate entity from DEM. That way, DEM can’t defund it again, or use political pressure to hamper its efforts. Please support the Old Growth Forest Protection Act H5344.
President of the Old Growth Tree Society
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