Letter: Elimination of state funding would put land conservation groups out of a job

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Many of you have already heard that the current Rhode Island fiscal year 2025 state budget does not include any funds for land and water conservation programs that we in the Burrillville Land Trust utilize to do our work. That means for us and for all those local and statewide land conservation organizations, there is no funding for the State Open Space program. No funding for the Local Open Space grant program. No funding for Farmland Protection. No funding for forestry conservation or management initiatives. No funding to save what little we have left. The only bond that is being proposed doesn’t include any funding that is typically included for wastewater treatment and Narragansett Bay, and watershed restoration. That means that our water quality is at stake. Our forests are at stake. Our land and soils and the beauty of Rhode Island is at stake of being lost forever.

Without these state authorized funds, the Burrillville Land Trust and all the other 54 land trusts in the state of Rhode Island are unable to partner with the state to utilize Green Bond funds to leverage significant federal and philanthropic funds to conserve important landscapes, watersheds, farms and the special places that benefit all Rhode Islanders. 

Every land trust and foundation’s grant of money to a land trust requires some type of state match or federal matching funds to go along with the foundation’s funds. Without that match, the foundation agency’s funds goes away. It ceases to exist. Without that funding, most land conservation organizations are simply out of a job.

As an example, think of the recent acquisition of the Ernie and Norma O’Leary Agricultural and Conservation Area. No less than four foundations, and a host of individual gifts were needed to match the funds from the state Open Space grant received by the land trust. All of the matching funds depended on that state grant. Without that initial state grant, the O’Leary property would not have been purchased for open space and agricultural preservation. The Burrillville Land Trust would not own it now, and eventually those 65 acres would have been developed into housing lots.

Statewide, for every conservation dollar invested by the state of Rhode Island, our land trust conservation community historically raises $1.70 in matching funds. If RI FY2025 state budget proceeds as is, the land trust community’s work will become far more difficult to acquire property and save our sense of place. And for some, such as the Burrillville Land Trust, our work will become nearly impossible to do.

I am asking you, on behalf of the Burrillville Land Trust, to contact your local and state representatives asking them to write the governor and ask to include an open space, agriculture bond referendum in the fiscal year 2025 State of Rhode Island budget, and place that request in the November 2024 election. That bond referendum would include funds for the preservation of open space, agricultural land, forests, and important landscapes.

In 1963, then Governor John H. Chafee was the first in Rhode Island to champion ‘open space’ – land set-asides as part of his ‘Green Acres’ program. And he continued that service and activity as U.S. Senator in promoting progressive programs of environmental management. Since 1963, there has been open space, green acre agriculture bond referendums and the like, on every election cycle ballot in the State of Rhode Island. Every single one. As of now, this will be the first time in 61 years that an open space bond referendum will not be in the state budget, and sub-sequentially not on the ballot in November 2024.

Every election cycle, the voters in the State of Rhode Island have overwhelmingly voted to approve bond referendums to preserve Rhode Island’s sense of place, farms, forests and open spaces. We are a state that values this sort of thing. Open space, our forests, waterways, agricultural lands are part of our history and in our DNA – (and) always has been. We can’t let our land, our water and our forests be ignored. Ask the governor to change the budget and include funds for acquisition. You need open space. I need open space. We all need this.

You can fill in a form and send to the Governor of the State of Rhode Island here: https://governor.ri.gov/contact

Or write a letter here: Office of the Governor, 82 Smith Street, Providence, RI 02903

Or call and leave a message here:  (401) 222-2080

You can write your state representative here: Senate:  https://www.rilegislature.gov/senators/default.aspx

House: https://www.rilegislature.gov/representatives/default.aspx

Paul Roselli

Paul Roselli is president of the Burrillville Land Trust.

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