Public Health & Recreation

Rhode Island’s Forests Generate Plenty of Green

Forests, like this one that covers Dundery Brook Trail in Little Compton, R.I., play a significant role in Rhode Island’s economy. (ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — Despite being the second-most densely populated state, with 1,022 people per square mile — only New Jersey is more crowded — Rhode Island is nearly 60 percent forested. That fact is further obscured by the Ocean State’s 400 miles of renowned coastline.

While Narragansett Bay and the rest of the state’s coastal waters play a celebrated role in the local economy, so too do Rhode Island’s 400,000 acres of forestland, of which about 70 percent is privately owned.

Forest products contribute more than $700 million annually to the Rhode Island economy and support some 3,300 jobs, according to Tee Jay Boudreau, deputy chief for the Rhode Island Department of Management’s (DEM) Division of Forest Environment.

There’s also the recreational value of these woodlands. For instance, DEM oversees 30 parks and management areas that host 6 million visitors every year (that number includes repeat visitors) and generate $1.7 billion annually.

“Rhode Island has a substantial forest-based economy,” Boudreau said. “Hunting is a major beast … a positive for Rhode Island.”

He noted that 20,000 hunters spend about $18 million annually on hunting-related business.

Boudreau recently took part in a Grow Smart Rhode Island panel discussion titled “Rhode Island Forests: Our Invisible Green Giant.” The discussion, held during Grow Smart’s recent “Power of Place Summit” at the Rhode Island Convention Center, also featured Bill Buffum, a research associate in the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Natural Resources Science, and Christopher Riely, coordinator of the Rhode Island Woodland Partnership. The talk was moderated by Christopher Modisette, state resource conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Prior to European settlement, Rhode Island’s landscape looked vastly different, as about 95 percent of the state was forested, according to the Rhode Island Woodland Partnership.

When settlers arrived, Buffum noted, Rhode Island’s forests were quickly converted to agricultural land — the state’s collection of stone walls is a lasting reminder — leaving only 37 percent of the state forested by 1767. By 1870, only 25 percent of the state was forestland. Rhode Island’s woods have since made a comeback, with a high of 66 percent coverage in 1953.

Trees now cover 56 percent of the 17th-most forested state, and Rhode Island’s woodlands remain a vital economic resource. For example, about 30 percent of the state’s private forest landowners have had commercial harvesting activity on their property.

The annual gross state output of Rhode Island’s forest products industry totals nearly $710 million, and the state’s forest-based recreation economy generates about $375 million annually, according to a 2015 study the Economic Importance of Rhode Island’s Forest Based Economy.

Some 3,325 workers are employed in the forest products, maple and Christmas tree sectors, and another 1,500 jobs are found in the sectors that include and support the forest recreation economy, according to the 20-page study produced by the North East State Foresters Association.

The forestry and logging sectors of the state’s forest-based economy move logs, pulpwood, firewood or chips from the forest to their primary manufacturing market. Payroll for forestry and logging in Rhode Island, including, for example, operators of mobile sawmills, exceeds $1.2 million annually, according to the 2015 study. The value of sales from the state’s 19 registered logging operations is about $2 million annually.

The Rhode Island Woodland Partnership began in April 2013 as an informal gathering of loggers, foresters, conservationists, arborists and artisan woodworkers — people who cared about forest health but were largely working independently.

Some five years later, this now-formal partnership is working to increase the scale and pace of forestry in Rhode Island. The partnership has created a networking space for Rhode Island’s conservation community to stay abreast of issues impacting the region’s forests. The group’s working mission is to “advance the stewardship and long-term protection of Rhode Island’s woodlands to benefit the local economy, ecological values, and community enjoyment and health.”

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  1. How is DEM Fish&Wildlife contributing to the protection of even its own state forests when it has virtually endorsed the application of Invenergy LLC’ plan to build a 1,000 megawatt power plant on the border of the George Washington Wildlife Management Area in Burrillville contiguous with five other state forests and the Buck Hill Boy Scout Reservation and the Allan Shawn Feinstein Cub Scout World—as evidenced by its opinion submitted to the Energy Facilities Siting Board, which includes their boss, Janet Coit?

    What’s in it for DEM Fish and Wildlife? Destory the habitat on the 150 acre power plant site where 47 species have been identified that are listed in DEM’s own 2015 Wildlife Action Plan as "Species of Greatest Conservation Need?" And do the fraudulent dance with Invenergy of having them buy DEM another property, in the specious notion that destroying one habitat can somehow be compensated for by buying another? To add to their little empire?

    The game DEM is playing with the Invenergy application is rotten to the core. If that seems an exaggeration, anyone can go the the EFSB’s website and read DEM’s various opinions filed there, and the contributions of Fish & Wildlife.

    They are a disgrace.

    However, the most disgraceful aspect of all is what’s missing from the files—the all-to-conveint neglect by Janet Coit and her EFSB colleagues to order that a proper Environmental Impact Statement be conducted for the Invenergy application. No order, no EIS on file. Even though this power plant is to be sited ON THE BORDER OF A STATE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA—for Heaven’s sake!

    And utterly damning of this irresponsibility on the part of her and the EFSB, and perhaps accounting for the taint of corruption it suggests, is fact that an EIS, conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was ordered by the EFSB, at the behest of then Governor Diprete, for the application of the Ocean State Power Company, in 1988, to construct a 500 mw plant in eastern Burrillville. The FERC process, as it does today, required OSP to identify alternative sites should their "preferred" site at Sherman Farm Road be rejected. One of those alternatives was the so-called "Buck Hill Road site," a parcel at 0 Buck Hill Road in western Burrillville—one of the several Algonquin Gas Transmission Co parcels that will be subdivided to site Invenergy’s power plant if approved. As Burrillville’s Tax Assessor’s maps show, the parcel shares a 6,699 ft. property line with the George Washington WMA.

    The FERC Ocean State Power EIS rejected this property as an environmentally benign power plant site. Here’s a slice of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s testimony, quoting FERC’s opinion of the "Buck Hill Road" site: "At least two alternative sites, Sherman Farm Road and Buck Hill Road, are located close to Wildlife Management Areas (Black Hut and Buck Hill). However, Buck Hill Road was not carried forward as a recommended site by the FERC because of environmental limitations. On page 37. the FERC identifies sensitive receptors to include recreation areas. We believe Wildlife Management Areas fall under this category because they are used for recreational purposes such as hunting, bird watching, and hiking." And further, "On page 0-51, the FERC identifies the proposed power plants as objectionally intrusive in areas that have, among other features, parks and wildlife refuges." And further, "On page D-52 the FERC specifically identifies the Buck Hill Road site as being incompatible with the nearby Buck Hill Management Area. Again on page 2-79 of the PDIS, and on page 2-88 of the DEIS, the FERC states that a power plant at the Buck Hill Road site would be inconsistent and incompatible with recreational activities at the nearby Pulaski State Park, also adjacent to Buck Hill Management Area."

    Even Ocean State Power rejected the Buck Hill Road site as an alternative to their "preferred" site at Sherman Farm Road! OSP quotes RI DEM to do it: "While there are no Federal level criteria for excluding either the Buck Hill Road site or the Sherman Farm Road site as potential environmentally sensitive areas, at the State government level there exists sound reasons for excluding the Buck Hill Road site from consideration. Materials are enclosed from the Natural Heritage Program of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. In that letter the Rhode Island Department Environmental Management makes the following statements regarding the Buck Hill area: ‘It is not only botanically significant, but… highly utilized for recreational purposes including camping (George Washington and Buck Hill Scout Reservation), hunting , fishing, and hiking among others. I would recommend that this Site No. 1 (i.e., Buck Hill), not be considered for this power plant project, not only because of a close proximity to Dry Arm Brook, but also because of potential impact on significant wildlife and plant species as well as the recreation in this area. On the basis of what I know of these sites I have listed, this seems by far the most inappropriate location for a power plant.’ "

    That last clause bears repeating "this seems by far the most inappropriate location for a power plant."

    DEM in 1988.

    Oh, how convenient indeed, that in 2018, DEM and Janet Coit and her EFSB colleagues have chosen NOT to order an Environment Impact Statement for the Invenergy project!

    You know, when a barrel on the dock in the noonday sun smells of rotten fish, what do you expect to find when you pull off the lid?

  2. WOW !!! What a tangled web we weave……. Yesterday, Opening Day for fishing in RI. I ventured up to RI State DEM operated Pulaski Park in the same Northwest Forest that Invenergy and The Governor plan to build a 1000 megawatt power plant and conducted a non-scientific survey of residents to get an idea of just how Joe (& Jane) Public Taxpayers felt about this proposal. Not ONE single person thought that this was the proper location to be putting this power plant in the middle of STATE OWNED FOREST & RECREATION LAND.
    Apparently Gina and HER EFSB don’t feel the same way. Really, Director Coit, no Environmental Impact Study? Shame on you Ms Former Director of RI Nature Conservancy.
    Matt Brown, keep your eye on these clowns !!!

  3. Just yesterday I read that soil scientists maintain that a mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere. Courtney White, author of GRASS, SOIL, HOPE claims, “Right now, the only possibility of large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is through plant photosynthesis and related land-based carbon sequestration activities." Trees rule in this regard! Thank you for highlighting forestry as a natural strength for Rhode Island.

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