The Natural History Survey Has Turned Its Back on R.I.’s Native Forests


The Rhode Island Natural History Survey (NHS) is known as the main go-to organization in Rhode Island regarding the state’s native biodiversity. Yet, the NHS refuses to protect the state’s natural heritage areas where rare and endangered species live.

While I have been disappointed in most of Rhode Island’s so called environmental groups for refusing to protect the state’s natural ecology and instead helping to enrich the timber industry, the NHS is the group I am most disappointed with because protecting native biodiversity is what this group is mainly supposed to be about.

When the Rhode Island Natural Heritage Program was defunded by the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) in 2007, it was expected that the Rhode Island NHS would take up the reins of the program in identifying, monitoring, and protecting native biodiversity. Unfortunately, this never happened.

Another problem is that the NHS is a nonprofit, not a government agency or entity like the Natural Heritage Program, so it is unable to create policy or enforce regulations. However, that wouldn’t stop them from advocating for native biodiversity or being contracted by the state to do the work of the Natural Heritage Program, but the NHS has no interest in doing this.

Currently, DEM’s preferred method of managing state-owned land is to cut it down – logging – and all state-owned land is open to logging. This includes the state’s natural heritage areas which were identified by the Natural Heritage Program as being habitats where rare and endangered species live.

DEM calls clearcutting “thinning,” even though the forest is gone, and in many cases, never grows back. Clearcutting causes deforestation, resulting in large amounts of carbon being released into the atmosphere as air pollution. This contributes to climate change, native biodiversity loss, invasive plants spreading on the forest floor, water and soil degradation, and, importantly, making the landscape more prone to wildfires, not less.

Neither the NHS nor most of the state’s environmental groups seem concerned by DEM’s clearcutting of our native natural forests on state-owned land, which any true environmentalist should be horrified by.

You would also think the NHS would be concerned that all the natural heritage areas are open to logging and therefore all rare and endangered species on state-owned land are at risk, yet the NHS doesn’t seem to care. I have repeatedly asked through emails and phone calls for the NHS to publicly support the creation of the Natural Area Preserves in compliance with the Natural Areas Protection Act of 1993 to protect the natural heritage areas and other unique ecosystems from logging, but the NHS continues to refuse to publicly support this initiative.

The NHS also refused to support the Old Growth Forest Protection Act in 2023, which would have prohibited logging in old growth forests which contain habitats for rare and endangered species. Why would the NHS not immediately support a bill to protect old growth forests?

While the NHS’s inaction to protect the state’s natural ecology is bad enough, what’s worse is that it is actively helping the timber industry to destroy the state’s native biodiversity.

In 2009, the NHS and DEM co-founded the Forest Health Works Project. While on the surface it sounds like a good program to improve forest health, it actually helps the timber industry by supporting logging efforts and job training for loggers.

To fool unwitting environmentalists into helping them, the timber industry likes to say that logging improves forest health, helps fight climate change, supports wildlife, and makes forests resistant to wildfires, even though the opposite is true in each of these claims. You would think the NHS would be opposed to the logging of natural forests. Sadly, you would be wrong.

In 2013, the Rhode Island Woodland Partnership was founded. Despite claiming to be pro- environment, the main purpose of the partnership has been to expand the timber industry in Rhode Island and destroy Rhode Island’s remaining natural forests.

Like most environmental groups in the state, the NHS became a member of the woodland partnership. Today, the NHS does nothing to protect native, biodiversity including rare and endangered species.

Why doesn’t the NHS, who works with DEM on projects, speak up about DEM’s clear-cutting of our natural native forests on public land?

Perhaps the answer is that the NHS is worried that by opposing DEM, it will lose its funding, since a great portion of that funding comes from DEM. In 2023, the NHS received $425,811.57 from DEM.

However, this is no excuse for them to stand by and do nothing, while DEM and other environmental groups are destroying the state’s natural native forests and the rare and endangered species who live in them.

It is long overdue for the NHS to stand up for our native forests, and if it doesn’t, the citizens of Rhode Island must.

Nathan Cornell is president of the Old Growth Tree Society.


Join the Discussion

View Comments

Recent Comments

  1. While I am sympathetic to Mr. Cornell’s general aims, I would have him pause to reflect a little about how he intends to see them achieved. Will any effective coalition of interests and abilities remain to effect his desired ends when he finishes his own campaign of clearcutting?

  2. Oh great, another conspiracy theory laden and completely inaccurate soliloquy by Nathan Cornell. Does EcoRI have any standards whatsoever for its op-eds? Or can you seriously just rant about nonsense every couple weeks, throw a bunch of unfounded insults, and get it published. This is getting ridiculous – Do better ecoRI.

  3. For any new readers, Nathan Cornell, the writer, has been trying to make a mark the last year or two by burning and insulting every non-profit and agency in the state. The reality is the organizations he has targeted to my knowledge do great work and have made a positive impact in the state across different aspects of the environment. A casual reader may think that as the “president” of the “Old Growth Tree Society” Mr. Cornell is a respected professional. However, the reality is this is a recent undergraduate with no experience in forest ecology at a professional or academic level. He started the Old Growth Forest Society himself – it is an organization with no staff and really no presence other than Mr. Cornell’s rants. What Mr. Cornell doesn’t seem to understand is that it is difficult to actually make change and get things done if you burn every bridge down in sight… Over the top ranting isn’t going to accomplish anything. These op-eds are bizarre.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your support keeps our reporters on the environmental beat.

Reader support is at the core of our nonprofit news model. Together, we can keep the environment in the headlines.


We use cookies to improve your experience and deliver personalized content. View Cookie Settings