2022 was a busy year for the Rhode Island BHA team, and we were able to build momentum on several key policy issues and achieve a couple wins too. Below you’ll find updates on our work at the Rhode Island General Assembly and other state agencies from 2022
Issue: Shoreline Access
By the beginning of the 2022 Legislative Session the House Legislative Study Commission on Shoreline Access, which was created during the prior year’s session, was in the process of wrapping up its activities and considering recommendations on the issue they were tasked with examining.
The Study Commission published its Final Report in late March, and subsequently made its recommendations actionable by also introducing bill H8055. In simple terms, bill sought to restore and protect historical shoreline privileges that Rhode Islanders have enjoyed since Colonial times by defining the public-use boundary 10 feet inland of the most recent high tide, and to overturn a flawed 1986 judicial decision.
Following its hearing and consideration in the House Judiciary Committee the bill was amended in a compromise to appease opponents, reducing the boundary 6 feet inland of the seaweed line, along with other minor changes, and was forwarded to the full RI House of Representatives where it passed with unanimous approval. Following the House passage the Senate failed to take up the bill, so the 2022 effort ultimately died in the upper chamber at the close of the session.
The New England Chapter also worked to educate both policymakers and the public on issues related to shoreline access in Rhode Island. In August, Chapter Chair Michael Woods joined experts on a panel discussing shoreline access at the RI Land and Water Conservation Summit. Additionally, an article on the topic was published in the Fall 2022 issue of Backcountry Journal.
Issue: Captive Hunting
Working to prohibit captive hunting – and more specifically the importation of captive wildlife like deer that could carry chronic wasting disease and invasive feral pigs – has been ongoing for BHA in Rhode Island since 2019. During the 2022 legislative session the New England Chapter worked with Rep. Scott Slater (D – District 10) and Senator Alana DiMario (D – District 36) to introduce legislation that would prohibit captive hunting and importing wildlife for that purpose within the state if passed by the General Assembly.
Disappointingly, neither H7439 nor S2651 were advanced by their respective committees in 2022, although recent CWD outbreaks linked to captive hunting facilities and CWD detections in new areas around the country highlight the need for continued effort on this issue.
Issue: Old Growth Forests
During the 2022 legislative session we noticed a new effort in Rhode Island to protect “Old Growth Forests”, which has the potential to be a good policy move in the right context. Of concern, though, was the methodology proposed to accomplish this goal in H7066, S2843, and S2843A. In simple terms, the bills sought to force both the state and municipalities to survey their forestland holdings for the presence of certain types and ages of tree species, and subsequently prohibit forestry practices such as logging in the vicinity. It also proposed new surveying requirements when acquiring public forestland.
Our main concern with the proposals is that it removes decision making power from the biologists, foresters, and other professionals who manage forests according to scientific management techniques and public-input processes like the Forest and Wildlife Action Plans. Additionally, we felt that the legislature should solicit the advice of Forest Conservation Commission that was created by a law passed in 2021, rather than proceeding with passing hasty and binding legislation.
Thankfully the bills did not advance through their respective committees in either chamber. When it became clear that efforts would not be moving forward proponents of the initiative also made several attempts to establish a Legislative Study Commission that was largely redundant with the already-established Forest Conservation Commission. The House rejected a proposal for a joint commission, and the Senate ultimately approved the creation of a Study Commission with the passage S3056 by consent, without any input from the public.
Issue: Hunting & Trapping Regulations (250-RICR-60-00-9)
Each year the RI Department of Environmental Management’s Fish and Wildlife Division opens their hunting and trapping regulations to make routine changes like updating season dates and bag limits. The process also provides opportunities to improve other parts of how these pursuits are regulated in the state, and BHA’s Rhode Island team engaged in the process of developing this year’s amendments by engaging directly with F&W staff, attending public workshops and commenting at hearings.
First, the team successfully advocated for modernizing methods of take for wild turkey hunting in Rhode Island – an effort that has been ongoing since last year. Unlike the vast majority of other states that hold wild turkey hunting seasons RI has been slow to legalize the smaller gauges and shot sizes that have been made viable for hunting by advances such as better choke tubes and shot materials like TSS. By making changes this year to allow gauges down to .410 and shot sized down to #9 Rhode Island lowered the barrier for youth and smaller-framed hunters who might be hesitant to shoulder larger-gauged shotguns, and provided hunters with new options to bring non-lead ammunition into the field should they choose to.
Additionally, we urged changes to correct language related to artificial propagation permits and the operation of private shooting preserves within the state, which are both rooted in state statute and further reflected in the regulations. While RI General Law does mention artificial propagation of “quadrupeds” like deer and wild pigs in § 20-17, another section of RIGL (§ 20-19) states that only propagated game birds shall be hunted on private shooting preserves. As a result, regulatory language was clarified to specify that only game birds be released on shooting preserves in RI, and statutory references were updated more accurately support the regulations.
Issue: Commercial Fur Sales
While H7361 & S2646 were not directly intended to prohibit fur trapping in Rhode Island, we have concerns that they could have unintended consequences felt by fur trappers if passed. Leaning on BHA’s North American Policy Statement on trapping, we opposed the parts of the bill that would negatively affect recreational and commercial fur trappers. Unfortunately, the House Judiciary Committee recommended the bill’s passage by a vote of 12-2, and the House of Representatives passed H7361 by a vote of 47-10. Thankfully, the Senate did not pass their bill or the transmitted bill from the House, so the initiative did not ultimately move forward. Read our comments below.
Issue: CRMC Reorganization
Following the 2021 passage of H6252 a House Legislative Study Commission was convened to consider improving Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council – the body tasked with balancing the development and protection of Rhode Island’s coastal natural resources. While BHA’s engagement with the Council has been limited, several of the New England Chapter’s policy issues such as protecting shoreline access, advocating for sound management of Atlantic Striped Bass, and opposing short-sighted aquaculture proposals have brought us in to CRMC’s coastal policy realm.
When the Commission solicited public input on how CRMC could be improved BHA offered two suggestions. First, we recommended that final decision-making power on CRMC issues be given to the agency’s staff, similar to an administrative agency, rather than the politically appointed Council where members are not required to have any expertise in the issues they decide on. Second, we suggested the legislature provide additional guidance to better balance the Council’s effort and focus, which tends to lean towards development of coastal resources often at the cost of their protection.
The final result of the Study Commission was an issuance of recommendations in a Final Report, which was published in May near the end of the session. We will continue to monitor legislative proposals that arise from the Commission’s recommendations in coming sessions.