Rep. Cotter’s forest bills pass House


STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved two bills sponsored by Rep. Megan Cotter to improve forest stewardship and provide similar protections to forestry as are provided to agriculture.

“Considering more than half of Rhode Island is forested, we should be doing more to protect woodlands. They are a valuable resource that directly reduces carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and also plays a role in filtering pollution from our groundwater. Keeping our forests healthy and encouraging the conservation of forested land should be a high priority for Rhode Island,” said Representative Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Richmond, Hopkinton).

Under the first bill (2023-H 6342), the House of Representatives will form a study commission to help the state determine the best action for improving forest management. Representative Cotter introduced the resolution shortly after the mid-April wildfire that scorched hundreds of acres at the Queen’s River Preserve in Exeter, the largest forest fire in Rhode Island since 1942.

The 12-member special legislation commission will 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.

The House also approved the Forestry Parity Act (2023-H 5784A). The legislation is aimed at encouraging Rhode Islanders to maintain more land as forests by providing similar protections to forestry as those provided to agriculture.

Under the bill, which now goes to the Senate, forestry would be a permitted use of land in any zoning district, just as plant agriculture is, except where prohibited for public health or safety reasons or the protection of wildlife habitat. It would also add forestry to the list of industries that Rhode Island Commerce is responsible to promote.

The legislation would permit municipalities to tax buildings used for forestry products operations at a rate that reflects the municipality’s actual costs of providing services to those buildings. It would add forestry machinery and equipment to the same category as farming machinery and equipment for the purposes of assessing the tangible tax, and create a new type of motor vehicle registration for forestry vehicles.

“This bill is like a Right to Farm Act, but for forestry. It is recognition that, like agriculture, forestry is an industry whose preservation benefits the whole state. Supporting and encouraging forestry will keep our state green, help to provide clean air and water, and will prevent fires by better enabling safe forest maintenance. Forestry is clean industry, and we should be much more deliberate about encouraging it to flourish here in Rhode Island,” said Representative Cotter.