In wake of Exeter forest fire, Cotter introduces bill seeking study for safer forest management


STATE HOUSE – Saying the 700-acre forest fire that raged in Exeter two weeks ago is evidence that Rhode Island needs to make forest stewardship a higher priority, Rep. Megan Cotter today introduced legislation to create a commission that would help the state determine the best action for improving forest management.

“Thanks to the courage and hard work of hundreds of firefighters, the National Guard and other emergency responders, we very fortunate that no one was hurt and that the fire was suppressed before it could reach any homes. But the enormity of this fire should serve as a loud and clear message that our state has some work to do in terms of taking care of our forested land. We need to put in the planning and maintenance work necessary to prevent fires like this from threatening our public safety and our environment,” said Representative Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Richmond, Hopkinton).

The resolution introduced by Representative Cotter would create a 12-member special legislation commission to evaluate and provide recommendations on proper forest management for fire prevention in Rhode Island. In addition to two members of the House of Representatives, the commission would include representatives from the Department of Environmental Management, the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, the Rhode Island Association of Firefighters, the Forest Conservation Commission, the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, the Rhode Island Forest Conservators Organization, the Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs, the Association of Conservation Districts, the Nature Conservancy and the state’s former chief of forestry.

The resolution directs the commission to report its finding to the House by Feb. 28, 2024.

“We can expect an increasing threat from wildfires as climate change results in hotter, drier summers. Just last year, as our state experienced months of drought, there were at least 80 reported forest fires, threatening safety, property and life. We need to adapt our strategies and resources to ensure that we are protecting our forests and our citizens as best we can,” said Representative Cotter.