2021 has been an interesting year, and while we did not host in-person events during the first half of the year the New England BHA team was hard at work standing up for the interests of hunters and anglers in Rhode Island. Below you’ll find updates on our work at the Rhode Island General Assembly and other state agencies from this year.
Issue: Shoreline Access
For the second year in a row bills were introduced to clarify where the boundary of Rhode Islanders’ shoreline access lies. Rather than re-defining private property lines defined in a 1982 court case, H5469 & S521 simply proposed to ensure that those who are exercising rights guaranteed in Article 1, Section 17 of RI’s Constitution would not be subject to criminal trespass charges. New England BHA supported the bills in their respective Committees, but they ultimately did not pass. Read our comments below.
The House bill transitioned its scope considerably to become a resolution creating a shoreline access study commission that will make recommendations to the General Assembly next March. The study commission will meet for the first time to organize its appointees on August 26, 2021.
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 feral pigs – has been ongoing work for BHA in Rhode Island since the introduction of H8090 & S2929 three years ago. The introduction of either of these risks, or both, would have a considerable impact on hunting opportunities in Rhode Island, and would also create a new, costly issue for DEM’s Fish and Wildlife Division to address.
For the second year in a row, Representative Scott Slater (D-Providence) introduced a bill on our behalf that would fully address our concerns related to CWD and wild pigs, and this year’s bill was accompanied by Senator Alana DiMario (D-North Kingstown/Narragansett) under bill numbers H5329 & S402. Regrettably, neither bill advanced through its Committee. This year’s legislative effort was not unsuccessful though – as both bills caught the attention of RI’s Department of Environmental Management which supported both of them in letters to the Committees. You can read our comments in support of H5329/S402 below.
During the 2021 legislative session New England BHA submitted comments on two bills that intended to accomplish the goal of preventing the introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease and invasive species by prohibiting captive hunting, but fell short of accomplishing this goal in their proposed language. You can read our comments on H5058 and H5610 / S311 below.
New England BHA also pushed for greater protection against captive hunting in the regulatory process by submitting comments and participating in public hearings hosted by DEM. We weighed in on the proposed Hunting and Trapping Regulations for the 2021 - 2022 and 2022 - 2023 Seasons (250-RICR-60-00-9) by suggesting language that would bring the regulations in line with Rhode Island’s General Laws, which currently do not allow for hunting of any species other than “domestic game birds” on shooting preserves. New England BHA was the only participant in hearings for the updated Rules and Regulations Governing the Importation, Feeding, and Baiting of Cervids in Rhode Island (250-RICR-60-00-2), where we requested that existing loopholes that could be utilized to import captive deer be closed. Read our comments below.
The biggest regulatory win during this year’s process occurred in the cervid import regs, which added the restriction that:
“No person shall release to the wild or one’s private property in the State of Rhode Island any captive or wild cervid. This provision does not restrict duly authorized wildlife rehabilitators to release white-tailed deer held in their care or researchers conducting research authorized by the Director.
Prior to the 2021 update language related to releasing captive deer on private property was not included, and the addition of this small but significant restriction represents a considerable hurdle to the establishment of a captive hunting industry in Rhode Island.
Issue: Agricultural Use of Fish & Wildlife Lands
In a particularly bold request, S0039 proposed a resolution on behalf of the RI Senate to the DEM Director to prioritize public lands for agriculture use over public recreation. New England BHA opposed the bill, and reminded the Committee that our state-owned Wildlife Management Areas were acquired and are maintained using funds raised through user-pay, user-benefit programs like the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program (Pittman Robertson) so prioritizing uses at the cost of public recreation and wildlife habitat are unacceptable. Thankfully, the resolution died in committee. Read our comments below.
Issue: Forest Conservation Act
The fragmentation of intact corridors of forestland has been an ongoing issue in Rhode Island even though the state currently has a current use tax exemption that is intended to lessen the economic pressure to clear and develop forested land. The introduction of H5760 / S0470 proposed the creation of a forest conservation commission to further assess the issue. New England BHA supported the bills, although we also urged the Committees to include consideration for the recreational value of forested land alongside values listed in the commission’s mandate like carbon sequestration and the forest products industry. The act ultimately passed, and we will seek opportunities to work with the newly formed Forest Conservation Commission moving forward. Read our comments below.
Issue: Freshwater Wetlands Rules
In late 2020 the RI Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Water Resources released a draft update to its Rules and Regulations Governing the Administration and Enforcement of the Freshwater Wetlands Act (250-RICR-150-15-2). The draft included some components, like streamlining of the permitting process and new protection for some types of wetlands like vernal pools, swamps, bogs and marshes that NEBHA supported. However, we also opposed proposed reduction in buffer protections for some rivers and streams, especially in suburban and urban areas, as part of a compromise to “improve the business climate” in the state. This is accomplished by allowing a lengthy list of exempt developments that will no longer require permitting within DEM’s 200-foot jurisdictional area along some waterways. The regulation passed more or less as-written. Read our comments below.
Issue: Commercial Fur Sales
H5188 & S806 were not directly intended to prohibit fur trapping in Rhode Island, but would have had unintended consequences felt by 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. Thankfully, these bills did not advance through committee. Read our comments below.
Issue: Recreational Hunting and Fishing License Fees
Originally proposed during the 2020 legislative session but ultimately derailed by COVID-19, the 2021 proposed budget (H6122) included a modest increase in hunting and fishing license fees that would be scaled over a 5-year period. In accordance with Rhode Island’s General Laws monies raised through the sale of recreational licenses are appropriated specifically to DEM for purposes that benefit hunters and anglers, rather than mixed in with the state’s general fund. Additionally, the increase in fees is not excessive and would bring the cost of hunting and fishing in Rhode Island in line with the costs of our neighboring states. New England BHA supported the proposed increases, and you can read our comments below.
You can help New England BHA continue our work on behalf or hunters’ and anglers’ access to public lands, waters and wildlife by joining Backcountry Hunters and Anglers today!