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This month, the Rhode Island Woodland Partnership (RIWP) finished a yearlong process of crafting its first strategic plan. This project was made possible by a $10k Strategy Grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, the state’s community foundation. The partnership was also fortunate to have the RI Resource Conservation and Development Area Council, one of its member 501(c)(3) organizations, serving as its fiscal sponsor.

Despite being the smallest and second most urbanized state in the country, the Ocean State remains more than 50% forested. Awareness of the state’s rural and urban woodlands and their many contributions is often overshadowed by higher profile natural resource concerns. The RIWP has filled a fundamental need by creating a networking space for Rhode Island’s conservation community to stay abreast of issues affecting forests. Its working mission is to advance the stewardship and long-term protection of Rhode Island’s woodlands to benefit the local economy, ecological values, and community enjoyment and health. The RIWP increases the impact of forest conservation measures through education and information sharing.

The RIWP used an Impact Map framework in developing a plan to guide its course over the next five years. The process employed three all-partner facilitated workshops, regular in-person meetings, and work in small focus groups. More than 25 people contributed to the plan, including a dedicated core group of about 12 individuals. The Partnership worked with two consultants: Amanda Mahaffey of the Forest Stewards Guild, who led the writing of the document and co-facilitated meetings, and Jennifer West of the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, who led the facilitation of the all-partner workshops.

To increase the impact of forest conservation efforts, the Partnership identified three overarching goals. These include increased support for working forest viability and health benefits, a higher intensity of active management activities that enhance the forest, and renewed commitment to “keeping forests as forests.” Although a number of RIWP member organizations collaborate on land protection projects, the Partnership decided it would be most viable to concentrate its activities in three focus areas: Education, Policy and Economics, and Stewardship.  

Partners are already working on several activities outlined in the plan timeline. In 2016, this included successfully advocating for a greater role for forests in state climate change programs and beginning to work with rural towns in the Scituate Reservoir watershed on forest-friendly zoning efforts. Moving forward, a critical part of the RIWP’s work towards implementing the plan will be to leverage new funding sources and to hire a part-time coordinator who can help increase the capacity of the partnership.

More information about the Rhode Island Woodland Partnership and a link to the plan can be found on the Rhode Island Woods website.

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