ecoRI News in Brief

Compiled by ecoRI News staff

June 27, 2022

DOH and DEM Recommend Avoiding Contact with Roosevelt Pond, Tiogue Lake

The Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) are advising people to avoid contact with Roosevelt Pond in Roger Williams Park in Providence and Tiogue Lake in Coventry because of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms.

Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals, and toxins were present in recent samples at both sites. Toxins may persist in the water after the blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

People should be careful not to ingest water or eat fish from the ponds, according to state officials. All recreation, including fishing, boating, and kayaking, should be avoided. Animals who may ingest pond water are especially at risk from exposure to the algal toxins, so owners should not allow pets to drink or swim in the water. The advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Contact with water containing blue-green algae commonly causes irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat. Common health effects associated with ingesting water containing algal toxins include stomachache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Rarer health effects include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. Young children and pets are at a particular risk for health effects associated with algal toxins.

If you come into contact with the water, rinse your skin with clean water as soon as possible and, when you get home, take a shower and wash your clothes. Similarly, if your pet comes into contact with the water, immediately wash your pet with clean water. Do not let the animal lick its fur.
DEM encourages people to send reports of suspected blue-green algae blooms, along with photographs, if possible to

June 25, 2022

Local Waterbird Deaths Likely Linked to Bird Flu

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and The Nature Conservancy are advising the public of recent waterbirds — gulls, cormorants, shearwaters, terns, seabirds, shorebirds — found dead along the Ocean State coast.

A relatively small number of seabirds and other waterbirds washing up dead on beaches is normal this time of year, but in the past several weeks multiple locations along the Atlantic Coast, including Rhode Island, have seen higher than usual numbers.

Due to the recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), wildlife officials are cautioning the public to remain vigilant and avoid any dead birds found washed up on the shoreline. While risk of HPAI to humans is low, the public is urged not to touch dead birds and to keep dogs on leashes and away from carcasses.

The cause of these recent dead waterbirds in Rhode Island is not yet known, according to officials. However, waterbirds in other areas have tested positive in recent months for HPAI. Past seabird and other waterbird mortality events have been attributed to lack of resources, including lack of fish for foraging. In Rhode Island, Block Island has experienced many recent mortalities, according to officials.

State, federal, and non-government conservation organizations are collaborating to test a sample of specimens and are continually monitoring beaches.

HPAI continues to be a risk, primarily for domestic poultry. People with poultry/backyard flocks should disinfect shoes/boots before visiting beaches, parks, and refuges.

June 23, 2022

Free-Fare Pilot Program for RIPTA’s R-Line Touted

Lawmakers, community leaders, and transit advocates gathered in Kennedy Plaza on Thursday to highlight an upcoming year-long free-fare pilot program along the R-Line, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s busiest bus route.

Funding for the pilot program, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 1, has been included in the state budget agreement for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Final legislative approval of the budget and the governor’s signature are expected in the coming days, according to state officials.

RIPTA’s R-Line runs from Pawtucket to Cranston via downtown Providence, and it accounts for just more than half of all RIPTA’s passenger traffic. Besides providing riders with financial relief, the free-fare program, according to proponents of the pilot, is expected to promote social equity, improve the safety and health of neighborhoods, and advance Rhode Island’s climate goals.

The Senate this week approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Meghan Kallman, D-Pawtucket, (S2015A) authorizing the year-long free-fare pilot. Kallman and Rep. Leonela “Leo” Felix, D-Pawtucket, previously sponsored legislation to make RIPTA bus fare free.

“Public transit is a public good – it is the glue that holds communities together,” Kallman said. “What’s more, transportation-related emissions make up about a third of the emissions in the Northeast. And so from both a climate and a community perspective, this is a critically important issue. Free transit is a crucial stepping-stone towards many simultaneous and interconnected goals: environmental and social justice and equity, emissions reductions, and a healthy and thriving local economy. Having free public transit across our state will help rid our streets of congestion and give a boost to businesses.”

Earlier this year, through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration, RIPTA launched the Ride Free in Central Falls pilot program, which uses the Wave Smart Card and mobile technology to provide free fares for rides originating in Central Falls. The pilot program will test the technology’s effectiveness.

“Public transportation is a significant part of the fight for racial and social justice,” Felix said. “We know that low-income and people of color use public transportation up to twice as frequently as white Americans. One of the most significant barriers to equitable transportation for low-income people is cost.” 

June 22, 2022

Rep. Speakman Receives Smart Growth Award

PROVIDENCE — Rep. June Speakman, D-Warren, recently received the 2022 Rhode Island Smart Growth Award from Grow Smart Rhode Island.

The award honors contributions to shaping stronger, more sustainable, and socially just communities across the state. The Providence-based organization honored Speakman for her efforts to advance affordable housing initiatives, preservation and conservation, and public transit. She was presented the award June 21 at Grow Smart’s Power of Place Summit at the Rhode Island Convention Center.

For the past year, Speakman has been leading a special legislative commission, created through legislation she sponsored, to study the Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act. In 2021, she championed an amendment to the state budget to establish Rhode Island’s first permanent funding stream for affordable housing.

“Despite being a state representative for only three years, June Speakman has emerged quickly as a highly influential legislator and a champion for a variety of Grow Smart RI’s priorities, ranging from affordable housing and the State Historic Tax Credit to solar siting reform, forest conservation, and changing state transportation priorities to advance the goals of the Act on Climate,” the organization said in announcing the award.

June 15, 2022

Big Rhode Island Hopes Placed On a Little Wasp

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Parasitoid wasps to the rescue. At least that’s what those working to protect the Ocean State’s native ash trees hope. Ash trees make up just 2% of forests in Rhode Island, but they are found extensively in parks and along streets throughout the state.

“With the release of these parasitoid wasps, all hope that we save our native ash trees,” said Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust.

The emerald ash borer is responsible for the destruction of tens of millions of ash trees in 30 states. (istock)

Roselli recently took part in the release of 209 Spathius galinae adults — a parasitoid of the emerald ash borer — by Alana Russell from the University of Rhode Island Biocontrol Lab and Saffron Zaniewski, a recent URI grad who also works at the URI Biocontrol Lab.

These tiny wasps attack the larvae of emerald ash borers and kill them before they mature into the invasive beetle. The beetle arrived accidentally in the early 1990s in cargo imported from Asia.

The Edward D. Vock Conservation Area along Jackson Schoolhouse Road in the village of Pascoag has been the site for much of the research and release of the parasitoid wasps in northwestern Rhode Island. The two other species of parasitoids that were released in past years were Tetrastichus planipennisi, another larval parasitoid, and Oobius agrili, an egg parasitoid.

The emerald ash borer have been found in four of Rhode Island’s five counties, with Bristol County the exception.

One of the other properties owned by the Burrillville Land Trust along South Shore Road was one of the first Rhode Island locations for the emerald ash borer to be detected, in 2018.

“We are hopeful that these little creatures will help save these majestic ash trees from extinction,” Roselli said.

June 15, 2022

Hope’s Harvest Joins Farm Fresh R.I. to Provide Hunger Relief

PROVIDENCE — Farm Fresh Rhode Island and Hope’s Harvest recently announced that Hope’s Harvest is officially the home for all hunger relief programming at Farm Fresh. 

Hunger in Rhode Island is a significant problem that has increased in severity and scope in recent years. At the same time, local food producers in the state have seen increased demand, but also volatility in markets and challenges due to erratic weather patterns, shifts in purchasing at a national scale, and other national and global forces.

Farm Fresh, a nonprofit that has been working to strengthen the local food system since 2004, has been a champion for local farmers/producers and an infrastructural driver of a re-localizing food system during the past 18 years. Hope’s Harvest, a relative newcomer to the local nonprofit food system, has filled an important niche by connecting farmers to hunger relief agencies and promoting food security and non-traditional market access to the emergency food system.

“As our program grew, it became apparent that combining Hope’s Harvest and Farm Fresh models and infrastructure would best leverage our assets and public/private partnerships,” said Eva Agudelo, Hope’s Harvest founder and director. “Together we can create targeted solutions for both food insecurity and increasingly volatile markets for farmers.”

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