Rhode Island Forest Conservation Commission

A bright blue sky and puffy white clouds are reflected onto a pond surrounded by a dense pine forest at the Wickaboxet Management Area in West Greenwich, Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s Most Important Forest Definition

RI DEM and the RI Forest Conservation Commission are drafting a definition of Rhode Island’s most important forests. A draft copy of this definition is available in the drop-down below. Helping to develop Rhode Island’s most important forest definition will work towards creating a framework for ways to protect, enhance, and conserve our forests.

The Forest Conservation Act § 2-27 was adopted in 2022.   

  • The general assembly recognizes that forest land in the state has many important values, including, but not limited to: clean air, clean water, economic importance, climate change mitigation, habitat, and supporting human health and well-being. 

This act also established a Forest Conservation Commission and charged this commission in part to:

  • Develop the criteria necessary for defining the most important forest land under this chapter.

The following are the forest types for a draft definition of the most important forest to address the values in the Forest Conservation Act. Unless otherwise noted, the definition would include forest 10 acres and greater with the following forest types:

  • Core forest

    Unfragmented forest blocks of single or multiple parcels totaling two hundred and fifty (250) acres or greater unbroken by development and at least twenty-five (25) yards from mapped roads.

  • Old Growth Forest and Old Growth Forest Characteristics

    2.1 The term “Old Growth Forests” shall be defined as a tract of forest land at least 5 contiguous acres in size, meeting criteria in A and B below and exhibiting at least three of the features commonly called “old growth forest characteristics” as defined in Section

    2.2 Old Growth Forest Characteristics.

    Old Growth Forests are to be defined as:

    • A. A tract with no evidence of previous forest conversion such as logging, cellar holes, stone walls, roads, or other post European settlement disturbance;
    • B. A tract that has no evidence of stand-replacement events such as replacement fires, or other natural disasters;

    Section 2.2 Old Growth Forest Characteristics

    The term “Old Growth Forest Characteristics” shall be defined as characteristics commonly used to identify “Old Growth Forests” as defined in Section 2.1.

    These characteristics include:

    An abundance of late successional tree species, with at least a majority of canopy trees that exceed half their maximum biological age, including numerous large diameter trees;

    • C. A complex structural diversity of old, young, and middle-aged trees at different canopy levels; large standing dead trees called ‘snags’, live trees with cavities, dead broken, or decaying parts or canopy gaps; coarse woody debris along the forest floor consisting of abundant dead wood in various sizes and stages of decay;
    • D. An abundance of lichen or moss on trees, decaying logs, and the ground;
    • E. Has the capacity for self-perpetuation.


  • Most Productive Forest Soils

    Forests with soils of a USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service ordination number of 3 and 50% or more forest cover. The ordination symbol is a forestry interpretation that was in the 1981 RI soil survey (table 17). During the soil survey woodland data such as site index, common trees and productivity was collected.

  • Forest to protect drinking water supplies

    Forest within 200 feet of class A waters and all forest within well head protection areas or groundwater classified as GAA.

  • RI Natural Heritage Rare Forest Types

    • Pitch pine/scrub oak,
    • Mixed oak/ American holly,
    • Floodplain forest: includes Silver Maple/Sycamore and Red Maple/Pin Oak floodplain forests
    • Atlantic white cedar swamp,
    • Red maple/ash swamp,
    • Southern New England mesic forest: includes beech, sugar maple, red oak.
  • Urban Forest

    All trees located within a US Census Urban Area including but not limited to trees in public rights-of-way, parks, private property, and residential yards. 

    Key Conservation and Restoration Priorities in Rhode Island’s Urban Forests: 

    • Significant trees (32” DBH or greater), especially in neighborhoods with low Tree Equity Scores (70 or less)
    • Parcels or locations with the threat of development, especially areas identified by the 2025 RI Land Use Policy and Plan
    • Forested Natural Areas
      • Woodlands and remnant forests which occur as a forest stand, or a collection of stands, typically greater than >0.25 acres
    • Where applicable, sites that are identified as priority areas in state and local level resiliency plans and climate action plans
    • Locations within a high FEMA flood risk type
    • Properties with greater than 30% impervious surface
    • Continuous corridors of riparian forest adjacent to (buffer tbd) rivers, streams, surface waters, and wetlands
    • Neighborhood Tree Equity Scores less than 100, a composite score that includes the following characteristics: 
      • Race (People of color)
      • Age (Dependency ratio)
      • Employment (Unemployment rate)
      • Language (Linguistic Isolation)
      • Heat Severity (Heat disparity)
      • Health (Health burden index)
    • Schools located within 0.2 to 0.3 miles (300 to 500 meters) from a highway.



  • Rhode Island’s forest land has many important 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 meet Rhode Island’s aggressive climate change goals through carbon sequestration 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. It is in the best interest of the people that the state identify and acquire the development rights to core and unfragmented forests to maintain these important forest values 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 that provide collective benefits for their myriad of critical benefits.

    In 2021, the RI General Assembly, through the Forest Conservation Act, established a Forest Conservation Commission to be coordinated and staffed by the Department of Environmental Management to implement the following objectives:

    • Assess and recommend new funding sources to conserve forest land across the forest continuum of rural to urban landscapes;
    • Identify incentives to encourage forest landowners to maintain and manage their land and preserve forest values;
    • Encourage forest conservation as a means to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change and maintain the numerous other benefits provided by forests;
    • Help to increase and create new markets for Rhode Island forest products to store carbon long-term and create new jobs;
    • Assess impediments to the expansion of the Rhode Island forest products industry and recommend changes to remove impediments;
    • Assess means to encourage the improvement and expansion of urban and community forestry; and
    • Coordinate and seek input from key stakeholders to identify other science-based initiatives to promote the conservation of Rhode Island forestland.

    View previous meeting matierals on the Secretary of State Website