Public lands package permanently reauthorizes LWCF & designates RI rivers as “wild and scenic”

Senators note that despite the fact President Trump is signing the bill to permanently authorize the popular, bipartisan LWCF program, he is simultaneously proposing to slash its funding by 95 percent

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Trump signed into law a bipartisan public lands package to protect more than 1.3 million acres, 2,600 miles of new national trails, and 367 miles of new scenic rivers, including U.S Senator Jack Reed’s (D-RI) Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Wild and Scenic River Act.

The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which passed the Senate 92-8 on February 12 and was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives 363-62 on February 26, permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), supports public lands, increases opportunities for outdoor recreation, and helps preserve open spaces nationwide, including in Rhode Island.

The bill includes Senator Reed’s language to designate river segments within the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.  The legislation, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, would establish Rhode Island’s first ever Wild and Scenic river system and provide access to federal funding to protect and maintain the rivers of this watershed for recreation, fisheries, and water quality preservation.

“These stretches of rivers support a lot of wildlife and they are critical to our communities.  Securing the federal “wild and scenic” designation is a win for Rhode Island and will help preserve the entire watershed and help more federal conservation funds flow to the state,” said Senator Reed, the author of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Wild and Scenic River Act (S. 45).

“Rhode Island has secured its very first Wild and Scenic Area, thanks to the advocacy of Senator Reed and Congressman Langevin, whose district is largely covered by the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “This special status will help protect the pristine rivers and tributaries of southwestern Rhode Island for generations to come.”

A river’s classification as “wild” means there is little development in surrounding areas and “scenic” means it is still largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.

Designating these segments of the 300-square mile Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) will open the door to additional federal preservation funding and support from the National Park Service.  However, a Wild and Scenic designation would not give the federal government control of the property or prohibit future development.

The legislation includes parts of seven rivers: the Beaver, Chipuxet, Green Fall-Ashaway, Queen-Usquepaugh, Pawcatuck, Shunock, and Wood rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut, under WSRA protections, further preserving Southern New England’s natural beauty.  Following more than three years of intense study, the bill formally recognizes the recreational, natural, and historical qualities of these river segments, provides access to federal resources, and promotes strong partnerships for their restoration and protection.

In 2012, Senator Reed introduced the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act to study these rivers for inclusion in the National Wild Scenic River System and successfully had that bill included in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Last May, Reed, Whitehouse, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), the lead House sponsor of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Wild and Scenic River Act and Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) joined with the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association and other local stakeholders to mark the completion of the Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Stewardship Plan to preserve the rivers. 

The plan was developed in consultation with town-appointed representatives from Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, North Kingstown, Richmond, South Kingstown, Westerly, and West Greenwich in Rhode Island and North Stonington, Sterling, Stonington, and Voluntown in Connecticut.  The bi-state study committee also included partners from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), the Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA), Save the Bay, The Nature Conservancy, and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.  Technical assistance for the study was provided by the National Park Service.

To date, over 200 rivers in 40 states across the country have been accepted into the National Wild Scenic River System, but until now, none in Rhode Island had received the designation.

The Senators also noted that despite the fact President Trump is signing the bill to permanently authorize the popular, bipartisan LWCF program, he is simultaneously proposing to slash its funding by 95 percent.

“President Trump’s 2020 budget would be toxic for the environment.  It would essentially zero out the LWCF, take away critical conservation tools and resources, and eliminate environmental protections,” said Senator Reed.  “I will work with my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to reverse these harmful cuts and allocate funding to ensure clean air and water and protect wilderness areas and public health.”