Private Landowners and Forestry / Wildlife Habitat Management in Rhode Island

A study of landowner involvement in forestry/wildlife habitat management on private land was conducted in 2011 by the University of Rhode Island, the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Rhode Island Resource Conservation and Development Council. The objective of the study was to strengthen outreach programs targeting private forest owners by documenting the experience of landowners who attended the Rhode Island Coverts training.

The study found that the Rhode Island Coverts training has been very successful in motivating land owners to manage their forests more actively for wood products and wildlife habitat. More than 80% of the participants had followed up with forest management activities on their land. The most common activity was creating forest openings to create young forest habitat, with opening sizes ranging from 0.5 acre to more than 15 acres per household. Many participants also harvested timber or firewood on their own or by hiring a logger.

Almost 70% of the participants reported some positive impact on wildlife, with one respondent noting that his three-acre opening had become a “wildlife magnet”. The participants reported increased populations of birds (woodcock, scarlet tanagers, purple martins and turkeys), other animals (deer, rabbits, mink, ferret, frogs, salamanders, turtles, bees, butterflies and dragonflies) and flora (herbs, grasses and flowers).

Financial support from NRCS was an important factor that motivated landowners to manage their forests for wildlife: half of the participants would not have implemented their past forest management activities without financial support from NRCS, and almost all planned to request financial support for future activities.

The most common problems in implementing the forest management activities included:

  • Difficulty in finding a logger who would share the revenue from the operations and complete the work on schedule,
  • The long process of getting funding from NRCS.

The participants were overwhelmingly positive about the Rhode Island Coverts training. One participant commented: “Take the training – you will never think the same again!” However, half of the respondents felt that they require additional training on topics such as:

  • Selecting and managing loggers and foresters to ensure quality and maximize income from the operations.
  • Best practices for implementing forest management activities,
  • Obtaining financial and technical support from NRCS and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM),
  • Online mapping (Google Earth, GIS and GPS).

The respondents offered suggestions for improving future trainings:

  • Provide follow-up workshops, since it is hard to absorb so much information during the training period,
  • Include more inputs from past participants,
  • Encourage participants with small land holdings (2-5 acres) to participate in the training,
  • Give greater emphasis to improving mature forest habitat, as some owners may not want to create openings in their forests,
  • Strengthen the Rhode Island Coverts Website.

The study concluded that the Rhode Island Coverts Training is making an important contribution to improving wildlife habitat in the state. The participants are following up on their own land with a wide range of forest management activities. The impact on wildlife appears to have been rapid and substantial. The experience of these landowners demonstrates that it is possible for outreach programs to mobilize landowners to play an active role in forest management for wildlife habitat.

The recommendations of the study team include:

  • Adjust the curriculum of the Rhode Island Coverts Program to respond to the issues raised by the participants.
  • Explore options for providing comparable training to a larger number of landowners in a different mode (e.g. weekly sessions rather than residential trainings),
  • Supplement the anecdotal evidence of positive impacts on wildlife on private land by conducting scientific case studies.

For more information, see a journal article about the study: