Creates a forest conservation commission, to be coordinated with the department of environmental management, to seek new funding and identify incentives for landowners to maintain their land as forest.
SECTION 1. Title 2 of the General Laws entitled "AGRICULTUREAND FORESTRY" is hereby amended by adding thereto the following chapter:
FOREST CONSERVATION ACT
2-27-1. Statement of legislative purpose.
(a)Thegeneralassemblyrecognizes thatforestland in the statehas manyimportant values, including, but not limited to, clean air, clean water, economic importance, climate change mitigation, habitat, and supporting human health and well-being. Forest land should be maintained to meetRhode Island's aggressive climate change goals through carbonsequestration and storage. Core forest land and connecting natural areas should be conserved to prevent ongoing fragmentation of the state's forests. Moreover, forest conservation is necessary to protect and maintain water quality and important wildlife habitat. Itis in the bestinterest of the people thatthe stateidentify andacquire the development rights to coreandunfragmented forestssoasto maintain these important forestvalues for future generations. Moreover, the state must develop incentives to encourage private forest land owners to maintain forests and to enhance urban and community forestry ecosystems thatprovide collective benefits to people and wildlife, including filter air and water, controlstorm water, conserve energy, and a myriad of additional critical benefits.
(b) The generalassembly finds thatforestland is being convertedto other uses because its current development value far exceeds its economic value to individual private landowners as forest;that forestland is an important part of the state's economy, environment, and quality of life; and that forests provide important economic opportunities for many people living in the rural portions of the state. Whereas most of the development value of forests accrue to the private landowner, many of the economic benefits of retaining forests are also public benefits, some of which are not often quantified. All of this serves toundervalue forests without proper mechanisms and tools to account for public services and cost savings provided by private forests.
(c) Therefore, the general assembly establishes a forest conservation commission to be coordinated and staffed by the department of environmental management to implement the following objectives:
(1) Assess and recommend new funding sources to conserve forest land across the forest continuum of rural to urban landscapes;
(2) Identify incentives to encourage forest landowners to maintain and manage their land and preserve forest values;
(3) Encourage forest conservation as a means to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change and maintain the numerous other benefits provided by forests;
(4) Help to increase and create new markets for Rhode Island forest products to store carbon long-term and create new jobs;
(5) Assess impediments to the expansion of the Rhode Island forestproducts industry and recommend changes to remove impediments;
(6) Assess means to encourage the improvement and expansion of urban and community forestry; and
(7) Coordinate and seek input from key stakeholders to identify other science-based initiatives to promote the conservation of Rhode Island forestland.
As used in this chapter, unless the context indicates a different meaning or intent:
(1) "Cost" whenused with reference toacquisition of development rights, means as of any particular date the costsubsequently incurred of purchasing the development rights, property rights and all other necessaryexpenses incident to planning, financing, and implementing the provisions of this chapter.
(2) "Department" means the department of environmentalmanagement.
(3) "Development rights" means the rights of the fee simple owner to develop, construct on, divide, sell, lease,or otherwise changethe property in sucha wayasto renderthe land no longer forest land; this includes the exercise of the owner's rights to sell or grant easements or rights of way, or to sell the mineral or water rights or other rights if by that exercise the use of the land as
LC002318 - Page 2of 7 productive forestland is diminished; but does not include the rights of the owner to sell, lease, or otherwise improve the forestland to preserve,maintain, operate,or continue the land as forestland or all other customary rights and privileges of ownership, including the right to privacy. Specific restrictions to forest land development shall be formulated by the commission for each parcelof land to which the development rights are purchasedandappended to the covenant atthe time of its making.
(4) "Director" means the director of the department of environmental management, unless otherwise specified.
(5) "Forest-basedbusiness" means the inclusion of all the activities thatgo into harvesting forestproducts and turning them into usable products. These businesses include foresters, loggers, and truckers who manage, harvest, and transport raw materials and the companies that turn these raw materials into usable products for purchase in a variety of markets.
(6) "Forest conservation commission" or "commission" means the commission established pursuant to § 2-27-3.
(7) "Forest fragmentation" means the breaking of large, contiguous, forested areas into smaller pieces of forest; typically, these pieces are separated by roads, utility corridors, subdivisions, or other human development.
(8) "Forest land" means any tract or contiguous tracts of land, ten (10) acres or larger bearing a dense growth of trees, including any underbrush, and having either the quality of self- perpetuation, or being dependent upon its development by the planting and replanting of trees in stands of closely growing timber.
(9) "Forest management" means the focus on managing vegetation, restoring ecosystems and habitat, reducing hazards, and maintaining forest health for a desired outcome.
(10) "Fund" means the forest land conservation fund established pursuant to § 2-27-6.
2-27-3. Forest conservation commission.
(a)(1) There is established the forest conservation commission consisting of the directors of the department of environmental management and the department of administration, or their respectivedesignees, both ex officio with the power to vote; andnine (9) publicmembersto beappointed by the director of the department of environmental management. The public appointees shall include at least one member with knowledge or experience in forestry, one member with knowledge or experience with urban and community forestry, one member familiar with land use andcommunity planning issues, one member active in land preservation, one member representing forest landowners, one member representing an environmental organization, one member with knowledge of forest habitat and one member representing a forest products business. No person
LC002318 - Page 3of 7 shall be eligible for appointment pursuant to this section unless he or she is a resident of this state.
(2) The members shall serve for terms of five (5) years each; provided, however, that of the members first appointed, one shall serve for one year, one shall serve for two (2) years, one shall serve for three (3) years,one shall serve for four (4) years, and the remaining members shall serve for five (5) years, from January first next succeeding their appointment, as the director shall designate.
(3) Any vacancyoccurring otherwise than by expiration of termshall be filled in the same manner as the original appointment.
(4) Upon expiration of a member's term,thatmember shall continue as a member untilthat member's successor is appointed and qualified. Any person serving a term shall be eligible for appointment.
(5) No member, including ex officio members, shall receive compensation for the performanceof his or her duties asa member;provided, however,thateachappointed member may bereimbursed if fundsareappropriated for his or her actualandnecessaryexpensesincurredduring the performance of his or her officialduties.
(6) The commission shall designate annually from its members a chairperson and a vice chairperson.
(7) Whenever public hearings are required under this chapter,or whenever the commission determines a public hearing is appropriate, the commission shall use reasonable efforts to hold those hearings at a place or places that willreasonably accommodate the interested parties.
(8) Five (5) voting members of thecommission shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of any business or the exercise of any power of the commission. Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the commission shall have the power to actby a majority of the members present at any meeting at which a quorum is in attendance.
(9) The director may remove any member for cause or misconduct in office after giving him or her a copy of the charges againsthim or her and anopportunity to be heard, in person or by counsel, in his or her defense, upon not less than ten (10) days' notice. If any member shall be removed, the director shallfile in the office of the secretaryofstateacomplete statementof charges made against the member and his or her findings, together with a complete record of the proceedings.
(10) The director shall have the authority toestablish subcommittees to fulfill the purposes of the commission. The subcommittee members shall be advisory to the commission and shall be comprised of key stakeholders representative of the issue(s) to be addressed.
2-27-4. Powers of commission.
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The commission has the power to:
(1) Retain by contract or employ counsel, auditors, engineers, appraisers, private consultants and advisors, or other personnelneeded to provide necessary services;
(2) Request the assistance of staff from the department or other state agencies on an as needed basis;
(3) Acceptgifts, grants or loans of funds, or services from any source, public or private, and comply, subject to the provisions of this chapter, with the terms and conditions thereof;
(4) Acceptfrom a federalagency loans or grants for use in carrying out its purposes and enter into agreement with an agency respecting those loans or grants; and
(5) Otherwise do all things necessaryfor the performance of its duties, the fulfillment of its obligations and the conduct of its business.
2-27-5. Duties of the commission.
The commission shall:
(1) Develop the criteria necessaryfor defining the most important forest land under this chapter;
(2) Make a reasonably accurate inventory of all land in the state that meets the definition of forest land;
(3) Inform the public, public officials, and other citizens and interested persons of the provisions of this chapter.
2-27-6. Forest land conservation fund.
(a) There is hereby established a forest land conservation fund.
(b) The fund may be utilized for purposes consistent with this chapter, including, but not limited to, the purchase of development rights to forest land.
(c) The fund shallconsist of the following sources:
(1) Sums the legislature may appropriate;
(2) Monies received from federal, state or other sources, including bond funds;
(3) Monies receivedfrom anyother sources including from any private donor for the fund;
(4) Any interest earned on the monies in the fund.
If anyprovisions of this chapter or of anyrule, regulation or order made under this chapter, or the application of this chapter to any person or circumstances, is held invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, the remainder of this chapter, rule, regulation or order, and the application of that provision to other persons or circumstances shall not be affected. The invalidity of any section or sections or parts of any section or sections of this chapter shall not affect the validity of
LC002318 - Page 5of 7 the remainder of this chapter, and it is declaredto be the legislative intent that this chapter would have been enacted if those invalid parts had not been included in this chapter.
SECTION 2. This act shalltake effect upon passage. ======== LC002318 ========
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BY THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
A N A C T
RELATING TO AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY
This act would create a forest conservation commission, to be coordinated with the department of environmental management, to seek new funding and identify incentives for landowners to maintain their land as forest.
This act would take effect upon passage. ======== LC002318 ========
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NOTE: Electronic voting records are unofficial and may not be accurate. For an official vote tally, check the
House or Senate Journal from the day of the vote.