Opinion: R.I.’s State Forests Are At Risk

by | May 24, 2024

By Nathan Cornell

Rhode Island is the only state in New England with no forests on state-owned land protected from logging. There are also currently no state laws that protect forests in Rhode Island.

That means old growth forests and the state’s Natural Heritage Areas are at risk of being logged by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

Old growth forests – forests that are over a century old – have more biodiversity and less invasive plant species, protect water and soil quality, are more resistant to wildfires, and store more carbon than an average Rhode Island forest.

Natural Heritage Areas are habitats found to contain rare and endangered species by the Rhode Island Natural Heritage Program, a state entity that existed from 1978 to 2007.

In 2020, DEM clear cut in 195 acres of state-owned forestland in the Arcadia Management Area, much of which was in a Natural Heritage Area.

This year, DEM is planning to clear cut  one of the last remaining upland forests in the Great Swamp Management Area. All in a Natural Heritage Area.

Destructive logging which DEM practices destroys biodiversity, causes invasives to spread, degrades water and soil quality, creates a fire hazard through the flammable wood slash left behind and the removal of the tree canopy making the forest dry from exposure to sunlight, and causes most of the stored carbon in the forest to be released into the atmosphere as air pollution contributing to Climate Change.

The Old Growth Forest Protection Act H 7293/ S2299, which was introduced this year in the General Assembly by Rep. Evan Shanley and Sen. Mark McKenney, would create the first state laws to protect forests and biodiversity in Rhode Island’s history.

The bill would prohibit logging in old growth forests on state-owned and municipal-owned land, require environmental review before state logging operations to make sure no rare forests or endangered species are harmed, would create a functional system for the state to designate Natural Area Preserves to protect rare forest ecosystems including the currently unprotected Natural Heritage Areas, and would bring back the Rhode Island Natural Heritage Program to protect rare and endangered species again after 17 years of not existing due to DEM defunding the program.

Please send an email to your state legislators and the General Assembly leadership to ask that they pass this much needed legislation.

Nathan Cornell is president of the Rhode Island Old Growth Tree Society. 

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Barbara H Brown
Barbara H Brown
May 25, 2024 9:34 am

This would be easier to share with our state reps if there were a link to do so.

Joyce Williams Wilson
Joyce Williams Wilson
May 25, 2024 10:31 am

Sorry to hear my home state is having a crisis with logging practices. I hope the proposed bill passes and logging will come to a halt. Rhode Island is a beautiful state and I remember so many of the beautiful trees to be seen from some of the busy, bustling roadways. Good luck with this endeavor.

Janet Z. Carter
Janet Z. Carter
May 25, 2024 2:48 pm

Sounds like the fox is guarding the chickens. The DEM, which is supposed to protect our environment is actually destroying some of it!

Nathan Cornell
Nathan Cornell
May 25, 2024 9:12 pm

Here is the link to the General Assembly website. The emails for the Representatives and Senators are listed on the personal pages for each legislator.



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