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Cooperative Preservation Efforts Increasingly Common

PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management, The Nature Conservancy, the Agricultural Land Preservation Commission, and the South Kingstown Land Trust announced today the final step in their collaborative preservation of 97 acres of farmland in South Kingstown.

The property, Weeden Farms, with development rights purchased and held by DEM, was turned over today by The Nature Conservancy to the South Kingstown Land Trust, which will manage the property.

At an on-site press conference, DEM Director Jan Reitsma commended the partnership effort to protect both Weeden Farms and the 134-acre Windy Meadows Farm, also in South Kingstown, which was preserved earlier this month. "How both properties came to be preserved depended on a number of partners working together cooperatively - an approach increasingly common and necessary in land preservation," Reitsma said.

"Land conservation partnerships are a shining example of how federal, state, and local governments can work together with community organizations, land trusts and other groups dedicated to conserving and preserving our precious natural resources," Reitsma added. He pledged to continue to work with local land trusts, the Conservancy, and other partners to provide support and funding for land preservation and conservation.

Weeden Farms, a valuable and scenic property at the corner of Matunuck Schoolhouse Road and Matunuck Beach Road, is a familiar sight to anyone who has attended Theater-by-the-Sea. The property contains some of the largest open fields in the area, with long stone walls, including a stone wall along the length of the property's frontage on Matunuck Beach Road. The land has been farmed for many years and because it is so visible from the roads, it is a central piece of the rural character of the Matunuck community. A portion of the land is currently being farmed by Harold Browning, who previously sold development rights on his neighboring farm to the state.

The project is also significant because it links together other protected land. On the west, it abuts the Browning Farm, and on the east, some of the state's South Shore Management Area. "By connecting other protected parcels, this conservation project is even more significant for wildlife,"said Doug Parker, Director of The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island.

The property was purchased from the Weeden Farms Limited Partnership by The Nature Conservancy for $800,000. DEM acquired development rights from the Conservancy earlier this month for $332,000, with $132,000 from the Agricultural Land Preservation Commission and $200,000 from the 1998 open space bond fund. The Nature Conservancy's additional funding of $468,000 included funds from the criminal settlement of the North Cape oil spill case, grants from The Champlin Foundations and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and gifts from private individuals, including some of the landowners.

"This is a great example of what the Community Partnership for conservation in South Kingstown is doing," said Parker. "The Nature Conservancy negotiated and purchased this property. Then the state purchased the development rights, which they will hold, and finally, today, the Conservancy turned the fee ownership over to the South Kingstown Land Trust, which has agreed to manage the property. It took all these partners and the cooperation of the landowner to make this conservation project happen."

"It's hard to avoid superlatives when describing the preservation of Weeden Farms," said Clarkson A. Collins, president of the South Kingstown Land Trust. "This is one of the few working farms left on the south shore of Rhode Island, and it is unique in its presence in this community. Every traveler on Matunuck Beach Road appreciates this landscape and the spectacular view of the farm. Weeden Farms is a critical property for preserving the visual landscape and the history of South Kingstown."

Earlier this month, DEM participated in the protection of the 134-acre Windy Meadows Farm, adjacent to the US Fish and Wildlife's Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge. An easement on this property was purchased last year by the Conservancy for $1 million from the Meyer family, which donated $75,000 in development rights. DEM has now contributed $500,000 to help pay for this easement. DEM funds came from a federal grant through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the funding of which originated from the criminal settlement of the North Cape case. The conservation easement on the Windy Meadows Farm will ultimately be transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Trustom Pond site is highly significant as a Piping Plover and Least Tern nesting site. In addition, the relatively quiet waters of the coastal pond, marshes, and mudflats provide high quality feedings and wintering grounds for a variety of waterfowl. The largely undeveloped upland provides a buffer that helps to maintain the water quality of the pond, which ensures a healthy and abundant food supply for waterfowl, shorebirds and waders. The 134-acre Windy Meadows parcel, directly north of Trustom Pond, was the most critical tract remaining unprotected at this site. The 1996 North Cape oil spill in the waters off Trustom Pond's barrier beach had a large impact on invertebrate fauna.

Much of the South Shore Management Area was originally purchased as working farms, and has been maintained in that way. DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife leases the farmland to local farmers who grow a variety of crops such as corn and potatoes. Forests and brush surround the fields, adding diversity to the area. The farmland areas are used extensively by migratory waterfowl as resting and feeding stopovers.

Typical game found within the South Shore Management Area includes cottontail rabbits, gray squirrel, white-tailed deer, raccoon and mink. Mourning doves use the area during the fall for feeding and resting areas, and other gamebirds, including bobwhite quail, ruffed grouse and woodcocks, inhabit field borders and thickets.

The Weeden and Meyers purchases are two of a number of properties in Southern Rhode Island preserved by the state and its partners this month. Also added to the South Shore Management Area was the 8.8-acre Read property in North Kingstown.*

Also this month, approximately 50 acres were added to the Arcadia Management Area through the purchase of the Richards property for $200,000 and a conservation easement on an additional 145 acres was purchased for $270,000 through the Forest Legacy program. Sixty acres were added to the Great Swamp Management Area in Charlestown for $66,000 and an 80-acre parcel at Fry Pond in West Greenwich was preserved through local and open space funds. The Conservancy was a partner in all of these projects. Preservation of a 140-acre Washington County farm through $610,000 in Agricultural Land Preservation funds is expected next month.

The state also closed on two other purchases this month: 33 acres of the Babbitt property in Tiverton that has been added to DEM's Sapowet Management Area and 57 acres of the Gorcynski property in Glocester that has been added to DEM's Durfee Hill Management Area.

Throughout the year, and into January, DEM will have preserved 1766.49 acres of open space, at a total cost of $12,376,300. Of the total acreage, 425.38 acres were added to state parks and management area holdings; 237.04 acres of agricultural land will have been preserved for farming; 725.26 acres have been preserved as conservation easements; and 378.81 acres have been preserved as forestry easements.

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