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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Helping communities sort out priorities

Sen. Valverde introduces bill to protect woodlands

green river GIFSen. Bridget Valverde has introduced legislation to create a statewide council that would help identify ecologically significant woodlands around the state and provide cities and towns with guidelines for protecting them.

The Woodland Preservation and Stewardship Act (2019-S 0663), developed with the help of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, would build on existing woodland stewardship planning in the state, and would provide communities with information they may use to incorporate woodland conservation in their own comprehensive planning and zoning.

The effort would also help cities and towns respond to the influx of plans for large solar arrays in currently wooded areas.


“Many communities are facing difficult choices as a result of large solar development proposals in previously undeveloped woodlands. Most cities and towns didn’t have this type of project in mind when they drafted their comprehensive plans and would benefit from some data-driven guidance on how to balance the need for renewable energy development with the need to protect sensitive woodlands. This legislation is a means to help cities and towns adapt their planning in ways that can protect and preserve valuable woodland areas, while maintaining local control of development,” said Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett).

The legislation would establish that it is the state’s policy to preserve the integrity and viability of woodlands. It would direct the Department of Environmental Management to develop 
recommendations for woodland stewardship and urban forestry throughout the state by April 2020. 

It would require other state agencies with planning responsibilities to include woodland conservation as a goal in their plans, and direct DEM to provide guidance by July 2020 to other state agencies and cities and towns on designating woodlands as significant natural areas and adopting measures to protect them.

The bill does not create any new state administrative bureaucracy, instead building on existing agencies and empowering local comprehensive planning and zoning agencies to make decisions.

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island supports the bill as a means to protect sensitive wildlife habitats and give Rhode Islanders the tools they need to be good stewards of critical woodlands.

“Rhode Island is the smallest and second-most densely populated state in the U.S., yet it supports a wide diversity of wildlife,” said Audubon Society of Rhode Island Executive Director Lawrence Taft.  

“A variety of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles thrive in forests across Rhode Island. In addition to supporting wildlife, Rhode Island’s woodlands provide critical environmental and recreational services to citizens of the state.” 

Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston) is sponsoring the bill (2019-H 5813) in the House.