Rhode Island Land & Water Conservation Summit

March 9th, 2024 • URI Memorial Union


REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED. Please email Virginia Streeter at vstreeter@rilandtrusts.org to be placed on the waitlist. We are not accepting walk-ins.

Read full descriptions of all the workshops below.

New workshop added! “New Developments in Farmland Conservation Across New England” in Session C.

Note: the workshop “What Do You Mean I Need a Permit for a Footbridge?” has been moved from Session A to Session C, and “Roots and Roofs: Understanding the Community Land Trust (CLT) Model” has been moved from Session C to Session A.

Read speaker bios | Jump to Session B | Jump to Session C

Session A (10:35 – 11:45 AM)

A1. The Ancestral Land of the Narragansett Nation: Stewardship Through Collaboration

This session will engage participants in:

  • Narragansett Brief History
  • Indian Country Protocol
  • Narragansett Land Stewardship
  • Land Rematriation and Potential Collaboration

This interactive presentation will conclude with a Question and Answer Session.

Randy Noka, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Track

A2. Mapping and Planning to Protect Nature and Grow Solar

Renewable energy sources reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help make the region more resilient to climate change. Solar energy is an important component of the region’s renewable energy portfolio. Small distributed solar arrays are commonly found on rooftops or lawns. Larger solar arrays are typically built on undeveloped land or, less frequently, on parking lots or commercial rooftops. The conversion of thousands of acres of forests and farmlands to solar arrays has generated much debate over the competing public interests at stake. This workshop will highlight advances in remote sensing, mapping the locations of solar fields across the region, the type of land use they replaced, and how local NGOs are using the information. Mass Audubon will share their analysis in “Growing Solar, Protecting Nature,” demonstrating how Massachusetts can meet its solar goals while protecting its most valuable natural and working lands. Then, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program will present their plans to create a decision-support tool to help land trusts, municipalities, watershed groups, and advocacy agencies develop plans, ordinances, and bylaws that prioritize land for solar and land for protection. NBEP is seeking information from users on the types of information they want in the tool.

E. Heidi Ricci, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Mass Audubon
Courtney Schmidt, Staff Scientist at Narragansett Bay Estuary Program
John Rogan, Professor of Geography at Clark University

A3. Roots and Roofs: Understanding the Community Land Trust Model

Please join us for a workshop that demystifies Community Land Trusts (CLTs) and how they work in Rhode Island through affordable housing and agriculture. Delve into the core principles that make CLTs an important resource for sustainable, affordable living and community-centered farming communities. Conservation practitioners will learn more about the dynamic world CLT models, and will gain new perspectives on how these models are important to the conservation landscape in the state.

Melina Lodge
, Executive Director of Housing Network of RI
Chandelle Wilson, Education Program Manager at Southside Community Land Trust

A4. Land Protection 101: The Nuts & Bolts of Putting a Project Together

This is a soup to nuts workshop on protecting land including both fee and conservation easement transactions. How do you decide what land to protect? How to approach owners? Obtain land gifts? Secure funding? Buy it outright or get a Conservation Easement? Prepare your land trust and the land owner for a process that may extend for years? Establish relationships that extend beyond the deal and into stewardship? We’ll use case studies to dissect a typical land conservation project starting with how a land conservation project begins and how to talk with a landowner. We’ll go through the steps and discuss what needs to be done until the project is completed and the property is protected.

Charles B. Allott, Esq., Land Conservation Consultant
Alex Chuman
, Conservation Director at Aquidneck Land Trust

A5. The Rhode Island Forest Health Works Project — Funding to Conserve Forests

The new Forest protection program funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now entering its second year. The “Rhode Island Forest Health Works Project” (FHWP) allows for both Entity Held and US Held Forested easements. The program’s eligibility requirements, application process, ranking criteria and funding timeline will be explained. Presenters Marina Capraro and Joanne Riccitelli both work on the program, with Marina assisting private landowners to apply directly to NRCS, and Joanne assisting land trusts who are working with forest landowners. They will also share a status update on the use of the program to date.

Joanne Riccitell, Land Protection Specialist
Marina Capraro
, RCPP & CIG Program Manager at USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service

A6. Youth Conservation League: Ready for Action

The Youth Conservation League (YCL) has a proven record of benefitting conservation land owners including many land trusts in Rhode Island for nearly 15 summers. Designed to introduce participants to working with natural resources, the hard-working crews of high school and college-age individuals, has built bridges, improved trails, eradicated invasive species and more with enthusiasm and a passion for the outdoors. Learn more about what YCL can do and how they can come to your land. Ethan was a YCL crew member and then a leader for two years before coming to Audubon as a TerraCorps member.

Scott Ruhren, Senior Director of Conservation at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island
Ethan Paiva, TerraCorps Land Steward Coordinator at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island

A7. How a (Bottle) Bill Becomes a Law: Reducing Plastic Bottle Pollution in R.I.

When done right, a strong bottle bill increases recycling rates, reduces litter, fights plastic pollution in our waterways, and incentivizes the beverage industry to implement a more sustainable model with bottles and containers that are easier to recycle or even reuse. Join us for an insightful workshop led by Jed Thorp of Clean Water Action, as he delves into why now is the time to pass the bottle bill in the Ocean State.

Jed Thorp, State Director at Clean Water Action

A8. Your Plan, Your Funding: A Strategic Planning Model For Sustainable Community Impact

Is your team all pulling together and in the same direction? Are your donors inspired to get closer to you and your work? This workshop will help you assess whether your strategic plan is setting you up for success or holding you back. Participants will learn about a “flywheel” model of growth that is centered on community impact, and share successes with each other.

Kevin Essington, Founder of City Greener Strategies

A9. Walking Rhode Island: Spring Hikes

John Kostrzewa writes the “Walking Rhode Island” column for The Providence Journal. His talk and slide show will include his hiking background, recommendations for Spring hikes and his observations about the history, geological features, vegetation and wildlife he has found along the trails. He’ll also explain what makes Rhode Island’s trails unique and outline some of the challenges Rhode Islanders face to maintain the state’s public preserves.

John Kostrzewa, Walking in Rhode Island columnist at The Providence Journal

A10. Protecting Farmland for the Next Generation of Farmers

In an era of ever-increasing land and housing costs, how do we both conserve our agricultural landscape and ensure farmland is available to RI’s small farm businesses? Hear a firsthand account of a RI farmland protection project that enabled a diversified farming operation to affordably secure land tenure for their successful business and future home. Learn about the state’s Farmland Access Program and similar efforts to facilitate the transfer of farmland to the next generation of farmers while perpetually protecting the land for agriculture and keeping it affordable for working families.

Michelle Sheehan, State Land Conservation Program Manager at RI DEM
Alby and Heather Brandon
, Owner-Operators of Brandon Family Farms in Kingston, RI
Jenn Fusco, Executive Director of Westerly Land Trust

Session B (1:15 – 2:25 PM)

B1. Transitioning from a White-led Organization to a BIPOC-led Organization

This is an interactive share session showcasing steps and processes that organizations and groups have taken and are taking to transition from a white-led organization to a BIPOC-led organization.

Cristina Cabrera, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Track
Karen Spiller, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Track

B2. Climate-smart Approaches to Caring for Your Woods

What can you do to help the woods you care for adapt to changing climate conditions? What does it mean to increase forest resiliency and is it really possible? This session will introduce climate-adaptive forestry approaches for Rhode Island’s forest landscape. Following an overview of ongoing and projected future changes in local weather and climate, we will discuss forest climate adaptation strategies, share helpful resources, and look at examples of specific activities that landowners and stewards may want to consider. The session will also provide an overview of a research and demonstration project in southern RI where trials of different treatments are being implemented at a site experiencing forest health issues exacerbated by climate stress.

Christopher Riely, Forestry Specialist and Research Associate at the University of Rhode Island

B3. Hydrilla: the World’s Worst Weed Coming to a Lake Near You, and How to Prevent It

Hydrilla verticillata, known to many as the “world’s worst aquatic weed” is now in Rhode Island. Between August and October 2023, it was confirmed in 3 locations. It threatens lake and pond habitats, fishing opportunities, and recreational pursuits due to its exponential growth rates, and ease of multiplying with only a small inch of stem (no root or seed needed). Learn what it looks like, and the best way to prevent its spread, control its growth, and protect our waters.

Katie De Goosh DiMarzio, Environmental Scientist at RI DEM Office of Water Resources

B4. Perpetual Conservation Protection Using the Public Trust Doctrine on Municipal Lands

Unless municipally-owned conservation properties have existing 3rd party conservation easements, there is a real risk that a town may decide to sell or develop existing conservation land even though it had been acquired as perpetual conservation land. As a result of the RI Land Trust Councils efforts, a new 2021 state law allows towns to perpetually protect conservation properties employing the “Public Trust Doctrine.” Since the passage of this bill, over 1000 acres have been placed in the public trust and more on the way. This seminar will discuss the process with case studies from Warwick and Smithfield.

Vinny Gebhart, Warwick City Councilman
Tom Rogers, Chair of the Narragansett Land Conservancy Trust & the RI Land Trust Council
Stephen Marsella, Esq.
Barbara Rich
, Smithfield Land Trust & RI Land Trust Council

B5. Flowing Legacy: Celebrating 5 Years of Wood-Pawcatuck Wild & Scenic River Designation

The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed received its prestigious National Wild and Scenic River designation in March 2019. Join us as we delve into the decade-long journey that led to this designation, and explore both the challenges faced and the triumphs achieved over the last five years.

Casey Merkle, Coordinator at Wood Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers

B6. Using Video to Help Further Local Conservation and Conservation Education

Greg Gerritt and Elise Torello have been making videos of wildlife in Rhode Island for several years, each with a different technique. The workshop will cover how Greg And Elise go about collecting and processing videos so that it can be shown to the public, There will also be conversation about other approaches, and how we use the video to educate people around wildlife in Rhode Island.

Greg Gerritt, Watershed Steward and Forest Gnome, Friends of the Moshassuck
Elise Torello
, Friends of the Saugatucket and South Kingstown Land Trust 

B7. Offshore Wind: Discussing the Realities, Dispelling the Myths, and Creating a Path to Climate Justice

Embark on a journey of dispelling myths surrounding offshore wind energy. Unravel the truth about offshore wind’s potential, addressing common misconceptions, and exploring how offshore wind aligns with environmental equity, fostering a more inclusive and sustainable energy future for all.

Nicole DiPaolo, Director of Energy Justice at Roots 2Empower
Steven Tadros
, Outreach Coordinator and Interim Tribal Relations Manager at Avangrid
Barbara Watts, Senior Marine Research Scientist, Emerita at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography

B8. Taking the Leap: Hiring Your First Staff Person

Is it time for your land trust to hire its first staff person? What are your expectations, and how will you know if you’ve found the right person? Cindy Elder, Executive Director of the Barrington Land Conservation Trust, will lead an interactive discussion on managing this important transition. We’ll explore how to know if your organization is ready to hire a staff member, the support they might need, and strategies to keep volunteer involvement and board engagement high. We’ll discuss how you and your new staff member can work together to expand your relevance, engage new populations, and navigate a successful first year of employment.

Cindy Elder, Executive Director of Barrington Land Conservation Trust

B9. From Forests to Fashion

This session will showcase the Forest to Fashion workshops held outdoors in September 2021 and 2023 both at the Edward D. Vock Conservation Area, Pascoag, RI. Our workshops were designed to bring people closer to nature, to build community, and to engage in acts of sustainable creation. The natural dye workshop happens because of land that is preserved in its natural state, enabling these connective encounters, conversations, and moments of awe.

Paul Roselli, President of the Burrillville Land Trust
Aleksandra (Sasha) Azbel, Founder & Creative Director of Sashoonya
Hope Leeson, Botanist at the Rhode Island Natural History Survey
Dinalyn Spears, artist, herbalist, master gardener, and Narragansett Indian Tribe Director of the Community Planning & Natural Resources Department

B10. Diversity, Land Trusts, and Farmers and Gardeners from Marginalized Backgrounds in New England, U.S.

Land trusts in the U.S. and beyond play an important role in preventing the loss of farmland to development. Farmers seeking affordable land stand to benefit from these conservation efforts. However, the extent to which these benefits are distributed equally among farmers is unclear. This study asks: To what extent are land trusts meeting the needs of farmers and gardeners from marginalized backgrounds? Data consist of interviews with staff at 15 land trusts in New England that conserve farmland and nine focus groups with 38 farmers and gardeners from diverse populations. Our analysis indicates a wide range of land access needs among farmers and gardeners, and highlights discrepancies among land trust staff and farmers in how diversity and land access are discussed.

Corey Lang, Professor of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at URI
Julie Keller, PhD.
, Associate Professor of Sociology and the Director of Social Science Institute for Research, Education, and Policy (SSIREP) at URI

Session C (2:45 – 3:55 PM)

C1. How to Engage with Tribal Nations and People of Color in Racial Equity Work

This panel will address how to engage Tribal Nations and People of Color in JEDI work (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) covering questions on Deep Democracy, Meaningful Participation, Decision-Making, Gate Keeping, Power Structures, Indian Country Protocol and more.

Cristina Cabrera, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Track
Bella Noka, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Track
Marco McWilliams, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Track
Raffini, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Track

C2. Forest Carbon Science, Management, and Markets

Forest carbon is a hot topic and is probably the most important natural climate solution available to us.  Come learn about the key science topics along with how to manage for forest carbon on land you own or manage or for conservation easement landowners you are working with.  Finally, you will be given a complete update on the status of forest carbon markets for small forest landowners. 

Charles Levesque, President of Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, LLC and Coordinator at Securing Northeast Forest Carbon Program

C3. RI Rivers Council Stewardship Roundtable

Sharing in an interactive format, this workshop will discuss important water-related topics such as invasive species, water quality, using technology, working with volunteers, and more. Have a new project or a watershed problem where you need feedback? Come prepared to share. This roundtable discussion will allow you to network with other land trusts experiencing similar stewardship issues.

Alicia Schaffner, Chair of the Rhode Island Rivers Council and Executive Director of the Salt Ponds Coalition

C4. Ask an Attorney: “Where Queries Meet Esquires”

This panel brings together seasoned conservation “legal eagles” to answer your questions about land trust-related issues. We invite you to pose your burning questions directly to the experts, exploring legal landscapes where knowledge meets action in the realm of land preservation. From encroachments to easements, our experts have you covered.

David Lough, Partner at Hinckley Allen
Martha Day
, Attorney at Law

C5. Land Protection and Stewardship Using the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Programs

The Natural Resources Conservation Service implements the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) which includes the Agricultural Lands Easement Program (ALE) and the Wetland Reserve Easement Program. These programs can be used by land trusts, local and state governments, non-governmental organizations, as well as private landowners, to place conservation easements on properties to protect agricultural lands, wetlands and forestlands. NRCS staff will review the programs and assist workshop participants in understanding their benefits.

Joe Bachand, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
Brunilda Velez, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Marina Capraro, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

C6. Creating ADA Accessible Trails in Rhode Island

Learn more about the challenging and rewarding process of creating accessible trails and other facilities. Hear from several land trusts about their projects, both completed and in progress, and about what it takes to create an ADA accessible trail — securing funding, developing the design, inviting community feedback, and more. This panel discussion will include time for a question and answer session.

Alex Chuman, Conservation Director at Aquidneck Land Trust
Jeanne Cooper, Carter, Tillinghast & Shorebird Program Manager at The Nature Conservancy
Rob Bower, Chair of Scituate Land Trust
Joseph McLaughlin, Director of Properties at Norman Bird Sanctuary

C7. The Rhode Island Zoning Atlas: Navigating the Housing, Development and Conservation Landscape across Rhode Island

Discover innovative ways of interpreting and utilizing zoning data for land use decision making through the Rhode Island Zoning Atlas. Developed over two years by the HousingWorks RI Team, this interactive tool can help you better understand the impact of zoning codes on development, housing, and land conservation. We will be joined by Brenda Clement and Bryce Kelly from HousingWorksRI for this interactive presentation.

Brenda Clement, Executive Director of HousingWorks RI
Bryce Kelley
, Senior Research Analyst at HousingWorks RI

C8. Volunteers and Board Members: A Discussion About Building Your Community Coalition

Recruiting volunteers and board members can feel like treading water, but it should feel like recharging your batteries. Engagement models can help unify your approach to building a coalition of community members who can inspire, fund, and lead your land trust through good times and bad. This facilitated discussion will provide participants with inspiration and some practical next steps to build your volunteer momentum.

Kevin Essington, Founder of City Greener Strategies

C9. Land Conservation Stewardship Roundtable

Lightly structured and in an interactive format, this workshop will discuss hot stewardship topics such as easement monitoring and enforcement strategies, trail/property maintenance, using technology, landowner relationships and succession, working with volunteers, and more. Have a new project or a stewardship problem where you need feedback? Come prepared to share. This roundtable discussion will allow you to network with other land trusts experiencing similar stewardship issues.

Sean Grandy, Stewardship Manager at Aquidneck Land Trust
Carol Lynn Trocki, Principal Conservation Biologist at Mosaic Land Management, LLC
Marc Doherty, Land Stewardship Manager at Westerly Land Trust

C10. What Do You Mean I Need a Permit for My Footbridge? 

RIDEM Rules for Freshwater Wetlands and Stormwater permitting can be confusing. While many projects and activities done by land trusts do not need permits, this cannot always be avoided. Most of the time permitting is a straightforward process, but at times it can become complicated and expensive. Land Trust and DEM representatives will tell their stories and answer your questions.

Chuck Horbert, Deputy Administrator at RI DEM Office of Water Resources
Gianfrancesco, Vice-Chair of the Scituate Land Trust and Chair of the Scituate Conservation Commission
Julia Landstreet
, Executive Director of South Kingstown Land Trust
Jenn Fusco
, Executive Director of Westerly Land Trust

C11. New Developments in Farmland Conservation Across New England

What new approaches and policy developments are other New England states using to meet the challenges of farmland conservation?  What new partnerships and funding approaches are being developed and tested? This workshop will give an overview of recent farmland conservation and development trends across the region while uplifting innovative programming and policy solutions from other New England states. The workshop will also include an update on recent farmland protection advocacy efforts in Rhode Island.
Chelsea Gazillo, New England Policy Manager at American Farmland Trust
Jamie Pottern, New England Program Manager at American Farmland Trust
Diane Lynch, President of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council