Charlie Vandemoer, director of the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the state’s five federal refuges, said USFWS properties are managed primarily for the conservation of fish and wildlife, as public recreation are secondary. Mountain bikes and bicycles are prohibited. He said hunting, especially deer so that they do not devour native plantations, is part of the management strategy.
State and federal officials have said early successional habitat is needed to help stem the decline of scrub-dependent wildlife like the New England rabbit and woodcock.
According to the USFWS, scrub and young forest habitats in the northeast have declined dramatically over the past century, mainly due to declining agricultural land use, development pressures, and infilling of wetlands. .
The federal agency has identified early successional habitat as a high priority for conservation. One of these plans is the Grand Fourré National Wildlife Refuge. The 10 shelters in six states – Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and New York – would acquire up to 15,000 private acres through various methods, including conservation easements and donations.
Although the acquisition plan has been approved, no land has yet been secured, according to Vandemoer. Hunting and fishing would be permitted in the proposed Great Thicket National Wildlife Area.
Vandemoer noted that the fees collected on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, tags, stamps and permits and the taxes generated by the sale of related goods are the main source of funding for most of the state’s wildlife conservation efforts, including those in Rhode Island.
Last year, Rhode Island’s five USFWS shelters welcomed a record 643,000 visitors – a figure Vandemoer attributes to the pandemic, as properties are seeing a similar rate of visitors this year. Of those visitors in 2020, he said, only 316 were there to hunt.
“It is a challenge to provide as much recreation as possible while achieving our goals, which are the conservation of fish and wildlife,” said Vandemoer.
Hunting, however, is not the only point of contention among those who visit wildlife refuges, reserves and other public spaces protected from development.
The underlying problem leading to most user disputes is the state’s population density – just behind New Jersey – and the lack of open space available to meet the needs of all users. No matter what nature needs.
The range of uses permitted on protected lands may differ from property to property. Change is inevitable, angst is inevitable, disagreements are common, and bad behavior is a problem.
Rhode Island’s collection of public protected areas – a patchwork of land owned by taxpayers and nonprofits – is used by hunters with guns and bows, fishermen, photographers, bird watchers , walkers, hikers, joggers, mountain bikers, mushroom hunters, picnickers, horse riders, swimmers, dog walkers, climbers and all terrain riders.
Dogs left on a leash disturb ground-nesting birds, and the silent meditation is interrupted by the roar of ATVs. Careless visitors leave garbage and animal waste behind, and the illegal dumping of garbage, appliances, furniture and construction debris leaves scars.
Conflict of use, however, is only one aspect of the management problem. Rhode Island’s protected areas are more than just human playgrounds. They are home to flora and fauna and provide invaluable ecosystem services such as stormwater management, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, and water and air purification.