Critical Lands In Rhode Island
The major institutional players in land conservation in Rhode Island are The Nature Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Audubon Society, and the RI Department of Environmental Management.  There has, however, been an rapid growth in the number of small, local conservation organizations, such as Land Trusts and conservation commissions, that are becoming effective agents in purchasing land for open space.  The Rhode Island land conservation community is fortunate in having access to many sources of funds that are dedicated to purchasing land and these include state and local bonds, private Foundations, oil spill settlement funds, and monies specifically targeted for groundwater and wetlands protection.  State, federal, and local conservationists are now in the position of having to decide which lands are most valuable for natural resource protection. 

Many of the small municipal-based conservation organizations do not have ready access to the scientific data they need to objectively evaluate conservation value of potential properties they might acquire.  Furthermore, they sometimes do not have the technical or ecological background to identify critical regions for protection.  We have been working for three years in developing a simple analytical protocol that provide local conservation organizations guidance in identifying the most important lands for conservation.  Our model is based on the premise that single-theme conservation prioritizing -- for example groundwater, wetland, biodiversity, or cultural resource criteria -- is good and appropriate for many conservation applications and transactions.  However, all things being equal, any property that contain multiple resources has more value than properties that only contain a single resource.  Therefore, areas in the community where we have high co-occurrence of natural and cultural resources are critically important targets for protection because they represent the most (economic) value for the conservation dollar.

The USDA NRCS and EPA Region I have funded the URI Environmental Data Center to conduct an analysis of critical lands for conservation through the state.  Four communities are the initial focus of the analysis.  See the Results example below for an overview of the kind of information we are providing communities.  If you are interested in having the critical lands assessment conducted for your community, see the information at the bottom of this page.

Resource Themes of the Critical Lands Analysis

These are the basic resource themes and the sources of data that enter into our analysis 

Farmland Resources
 Agricultural lands (1995 LULC dataset)
 Prime and Important soils (SSURGO data)

Cultural, Recreational, and  Aesthetic Resources
 Scenic Areas (DEM)
 Historical Regions (1998 RIGIS version)
 Greenway Corridors (RIGIS, DOP)

Biodiversity Resources
 Wetlands (1995 RIGIS LULC) 
 Land within 300 ft of wetlands, rivers/streams, estuaries
 Forest and Brushland (1995 RIGIS LULC)
 Lands within 300 ft of already protected land (DEMWMA, Audubon,TNC,
 Landtrusts, and USFWS dataset) 
 Rare Species habitats (DEM heritage dataset on critical/unique habitats)

Groundwater Resources
 Aquifers (RIGIS, DEM)
 Aquifer Recharge Areas (RIGIS, DEM)
 Wellhead Protection Areas (RIGIS, DEM)

The following series of documents will explain the steps taken in the Critical Lands Analysis. 

Go to the methods documentation.


Each community or land trust participating in the project will receive the following:
  • Laminated 1:24,000 paper plots of the digital orthophoto of the community
  • Laminated paper plots of each resource theme and constituent data 
  • A laminated critical lands composite map
  • A CD of an ArcView Project with all the constituent data for the analysis (for future custom refinement of the analysis by the community if they wish) 
  • We will also maintain a web presence with the results of each community
         Coventry Critical Lands
         East Greenwich Critical Lands
         Exeter Critical Lands
         Hopkinton Critical Lands

How to Use These Data

The Single Theme maps and Composite map can be used in many ways to support conservation activities. 

These include:

Proactive Conservation -- Areas of the composite map that are the darkest green contain the most co-occurring resources in the community.  They are the first place a conservation organization might search for land available for conservation.

Evaluation of Opportunistic Acquisitions -- Many times, land owners will offer their property, or development rights to their land, to conservation organizations.  The single theme maps and the composite map will help the conservation organization determine the value of the property for resource protection.

Justification of Acquisitions -- The maps and analyses contained here can be used to justify to granting organizations the importance of the conservation projects you intend to do.  The data and methods we used in this analysis are the very best quality that is available today. 

Public Relations -- The public will be interested in any past or current acquisitions that fall inside resource-important regions of the landscape.  The maps will help you demonstrate the importance of your organization in protecting the natural and cultural resources of the area.

Current Status

The Critical Lands analysis is underway for all towns located in Washington County along with West Greenwich. The project will be completed in two phases. Phase 1 will consist of running the generic analysis and deliver the output to each individual towns. Phase 2 will consist of rerunning the anaylsis according to an individual town specifications.

This extension of the analysis is being funded by RI DEM under a grant sponsored by The US Forest Service and is referred to as The South County Greenspace Project. There will be cooperation from various agencies in Rhode Island including: The Coastal Resources Center, URI/Sea Grant Program, Grow Smart Rhode Island, Washington Regional Planning Council, and the South County Watersheds Partnership.

Interested in the Analysis for Your Community or Land Trust?

Peter August (874-4794) or Alyson McCann (874-5398)

Click here for a brief article on the Critical Lands Process