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State House, Providence – House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale offers the following statement regarding this week's multiple wildfires in Rhode Island:
For the past three years Republicans have offered thoughtful budget amendments and bills – which were either voted down, or not voted on -- to fund "an ounce of prevention" through our Department of Environmental Management’s (RIDEM) Forestry Division. In the past weeks, five major forest fires ignited in Rhode Island from the northern most towns, to the southern towns -- and we were lucky.
Lucky that all five major fires didn't occur simultaneously. Lucky that no lives were lost. Lucky that all but one evacuated resident’s homes remained intact. Lucky that the fire was contained before reaching our pristine Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Lucky that 200 firefighters (including responders from Massachusetts and Connecticut) were available to extinguish the blaze and there were no major injuries. Lucky that we had Black Hawk helicopters and ATVs to circumvent the impassable and unmaintained forest access roads. We were lucky, as this could have been much worse.
Our Rhode Island forests have been devastated by the gypsy moth infestation. That, combined with a lack of investment in proper forest management, resulted in the fact that we have been flirting with disaster for years. Time and again, RIDEM directors have called on our state officials for "deferred maintenance" funding only to have miniscule monies allocated, or none at all. This needs to change.
RI Conservation Districts, statutory organizations housed under the umbrella of DEM, are tasked with coordinating local, state and federal resources to assist with the proper stewardship of RI's land and waters. Their focused insights into prioritizing our forestry maintenance efforts provide a vital tool for managing our activities going forward. Not only are our municipalities able to take advantage of the services of the Districts, but private land owners as well.
It is well past time to properly fund this important resource and my bipartisan bill H-5326 (Senate – S244, DiPalma) asks for just that. Funding for our Conservation Districts has dwindled over the years. The $180,000 my colleagues and I are requesting to fund these vital organizations is a drop in the budgetary bucket - but will go a very long way in assisting these groups to help manage our forested communities. It is a small investment which will enhance our fire prevention and other land maintenance strategies going forward and will have a positive impact on the health of our forests.
Almost 900 acres have burned in these three recent fires. A recent RIDEM report states that 9 million people visit Rhode Island's 8,200 acres of parkland each year-- the most visitors per acre of any state park system in the country. Our parks and preserves support more than 3,700 jobs and bring an estimated $312 million to the state economy.
The only fire that needs to be lit right now is with our state officials in prioritizing funding for our core government functions this session. I am asking for universal support of this simple initiative so that our Conservation Districts and Department of Environmental Management can work with our rural communities and their residents to tackle the tinder-box conditions our forest floors are in right now.
The 2023 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, Michael Chippendale, District 40 (Foster, Glocester, Coventry); Minority Whip David Place, District 47 (Burrillville, Glocester); Representative George Nardone, District 28 (Coventry); Representative Brian Newberry, District 48 (North Smithfield, Burrillville); Representative Robert Quattrocchi, District 41 (Scituate, Cranston); Representative Sherry Roberts, District 29 (Coventry, West Greenwich) Representative Brian Rea, District 53 (Glocester, Smithfield). For more information on the House Minority Caucus, please visit www.rihousegop.org
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