State House, Providence, RI – Rhode Island House Republicans, in collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), are calling for the creation of a comprehensive fuelwood harvesting program as a preemptive measure to help combat costly forest fires within the state. Rhode Island continues to experience severe to extreme drought conditions, adding urgency to adopt permanent mitigation measures.
The House Resolution calls upon the Governor to reassign personnel to RIDEM to help direct efforts to reinstate a program that will permit the public to clear dead or dying wood from state properties. Currently, there is a successful fuelwood harvesting program on Prudence Island, managed by RIDEM, which could easily be expanded across the state. It is estimated that there are between 45,000-50,000 dead trees, or 13 percent of all Rhode Island trees have fallen and are susceptible to fires. Seventy-five percent of Rhode Island’s trees are 40 -80 years old, increasing the likelihood of dead limbs on live trees; and only two percent are in the range of 0-20 years old, resulting in fewer trees being harvested. Rhode Island’s forest health has also been degraded due to the prevalence of invasive species, including outbreaks with the emerald ash borer, the spotted lantern fly and the gypsy moth caterpillar infestations.
In 2020 alone, there have been more than 80 forest fires within the state, some requiring fire-fighting assistance, or mutual aid, from Connecticut and Massachusetts. As witnessed throughout the United States, forest fires continue to grow in size and severity, as does the costs to fight and contain them. Nationally, fighting forest fires and the damage sustained is reported in the hundreds of billions of dollars – not to mention the tragic loss of life. Rhode Island cannot afford to go without addressing this high priority issue.
“In 1942, Rhode Island experienced a major forest fire crisis when multiple fires broke out statewide,” said Minority Whip Michael Chippendale, the primary sponsor of the resolution. “To extinguish the fires it required over 1,000 personnel from multiple states, as well as active duty soldiers. Our conditions are such that we are situated for a much worse scenario if we do not commence preemptive measures. The cost of life, and the extensive damage to property, far exceeds the costs to reinstate this fuelwood harvesting program. For years, RIDEM has had their budget continually gutted by the legislature while simultaneously being responsible for a vast and growing number of regulation and enforcement responsibilities. It is time for us to adequately support our core government functions and fulfill our responsibilities as stewards of our state properties. This program will also create opportunities for residents to obtain firewood to heat their homes at little or no cost.”
“As a resident of a neighborhood which abuts Lincoln Woods, I have been particularly concerned about the eminent threat of a catastrophic incident due to fallen trees,” said Representative Jack Lyle. “Unfortunately, RIDEM has been the victim of underfunding which has resulted in understaffing to deal with this serious problem. I pledge to continue to fight to provide RIDEM with the resources it needs to take care of our pristine woods.”
“Most of our Caucus members reside in districts that are deeply impacted by the drought and the stress it places on our forests,” said Representative Robert Quattrocchi. “We believe a robust public fuelwood harvesting program is a first step in helping to prevent massive forest fires in our state.”
Leader Blake Filippi, Representative Brian Newberry, Representative George Nardone, Representative Sherry Roberts, Representative Justin Price and Representative David Place are also in support of this resolution.
The Rhode Island House of Representatives Minority Caucus (Republican) is comprised of the following elected members representing constituents who live in the following districts throughout the Ocean State: Minority Leader, Blake Filippi, District 36 (Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly, New Shoreham); Minority Whip, Michael Chippendale, District 40 (Foster, Glocester, Coventry); Representative John Lyle, Jr., District 46 (Lincoln, Pawtucket); Representative George Nardone, District 28 (Coventry); Representative Brian Newberry, District 48 (North Smithfield, Burrillville); Representative David Place, District 47 (Burrillville, Glocester); Senior Deputy Minority Leader Justin Price, District 39 (Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond); Deputy Minority Leader Robert Quattrocchi, District 41 (Scituate, Cranston); Deputy Whip Sherry Roberts, District 29 (Coventry, West Greenwich).
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