Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Rhode Islandlast updated: May 2007

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program provides landowners technical and financial assistance to restore fish and wildlife habitats on their properties. The overall goal is to return a site to the ecological condition that likely existed prior to loss or degradation. In Rhode Island, the program has focused on restoring riparian, native grassland, beach grass, salt marsh, freshwater wetlands and anadromous fish habitats. One feature of the Partners program is its ability to fund unique habitat restoration projects. In 1994, the Partners program funded two of the first eelgrass restoration projects in Narragansett Bay that lead the way for a larger effort to restore eelgrass in the Bay.

Habitats of Special Concern
The Partners program will focus its effort on the Wood-Pawcatuck HUC which contains the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed, South County coastal ponds/wetlands and Block Island. Within this area, restoration efforts will focus on three habitats: salt marshes, native grasslands, and the rivers (removal of fish barriers)

Coastal salt marsh ranks among the most productive ecosystems in the world, providing nursery grounds and foraging habitat for hundreds of species of fish, shellfish, and birds. Rhode Island has approximately 3,500 acres of salt marsh left.

Native grassland restoration is significant on both a local and regional scale since there are very few remaining grasslands of any size along the Northeast coast. The disappearance of native grassland coincides with the alarming rate of decline of most grassland-dependent birds and plants.

The Wood-Pawcatuck River is the premier fresh water fishery and recreational resource in the State. The partner’s focus will be on removing barriers to anadromous fish and native brook trout.

In Rhode Island, salt marsh has been filled, diked, dredged and doused with chemicals. Downtown Providence, much of Quonset Point and other low lying coastal areas were built on what were once wetlands. Many salt marshes are being invaded by invasive plants such as Phragmites.

Many species of migratory birds, waterfowl, reptiles and amphibians depend on freshwater wetlands for food, shelter and reproduction. It is estimated that Rhode Island has lost 37 percent of its freshwater wetlands to development. There are approximately 65,000 acres of wetland remaining in Rhode Island.

In the mid-1800’s, less than 40 percent of Rhode Island was forested, leaving 400,000 acres of open land for agricultural activity and development. By 1987, only 60,000 acres of farmland remained in the State. Farmland continues to decline coinciding with the alarming rate of decline in most grassland-dependent birds.

RI has over 500 dams and many undersized culverts that limit fish movement. Many of these dams should be removed or fish passage provided to improve connectivity and fish habitat. One major impediment to dam removal is the contaminated sediments behind these dams. It is very expense to clean up these contaminated sediments.

Conservation Strategies
Salt marsh Restoration
The Partners Program funded the first major salt marsh restoration project in RI. The USFWS worked with dedicated volunteers from the Common Fence Point Improvement Association to restore a former salt marsh and coastal pond which had been filled with dredge material in the early 1940s. It took the effort of many partners at the local, state and federal level working closely together for many years to solve the many obstacles to restoring this salt marsh/coastal pond.

The Galilee Bird Sanctuary, a Partners and Coastal American Project, restored 128 acres of salt marsh. The Partners program providing technical assistance, money, and equipment, including an Amiphibious Excavator. The excavator was used to cut new channels and allow tidal flow into the upper reaches of the sanctuary.

Salt marsh restoration varies with each site. Some projects require removing fill, others need larger culverts to improve tidal flushing. Some projects focus on the removal of invasives such as Phragmites, allowing native vegetation to be restored. The Partners program is working with Ducks Unlimited and 13 private landowners to restore 25 acres of Phragmites dominated wetland along Cards Ponds.

Grassland Restoration
Since 1995, The Nature Conservancy has used Partners funds to restore native grasslands on Block Island. The American Burying Beetle, a federally endangered species, has benefitted greatly from this restoration effort. Block Island is home to the only viable population of beetles east of the Mississippi River. The restored habitat is also benefitting numerous bird species including grasshopper sparrow, barn owl, and northern harrier. It is also helping rare plants such as Northern Blazing Star.

Partners’ funds have also been used by Audubon Society of RI, Westerly Land Trust and South Kingston Land Trust to restore native grassland. Planting native warm season grasses such as little bluestem and switch grass along with native wildflowers has provided valuable habitat for grassland nesting birds and food for invertebrates such as butterflies.

The partner’s program will focus on removing barriers to anadromous fish and native brook trout. A study by Trout Unlimited and NRCS has identified most fish barriers along the Wood River. The partners’s program will focus on replacing these undersized culverts with larger ones.


  • Since 1993, fish and wildlife habitat has been restored on over 200 acres of salt marsh
  • The Partners Program has carried out restoration activities on over 300 acres of native grassland.
  • Water control structures have been installed to improve habitat for wetland-associated species.
  • Three dune, beach grass restorations have been successful
  • Technical assistance has been provided on over 100 projects.

Future Needs
There are approximately 1,750 acres of salt marsh that could be enhanced to improve fish and wildlife habitat.

There are 13,000 acres of freshwater wetlands that could be improved for fish and wildlife.

Rhode Island rivers once supported populations of Atlantic Salmon, shad and river herrings. Spawning runs were an important food source for Native Americans, but by 1869 the Atlantic Salmon had disappeared from the State’s rivers. There are over 500 dams in RI, most of which require fish passage facilities. Some dams are obsolete and should be removed.

Contact Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Rhode Island

Contact Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Rhode Island

Greg Mannesto
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
50 Bend Road
Shoreline Plaza / Route 1A, P.O. Box 307
Charlestown, Rhode Island  02813
Phone: (401) 364-9124
Fax: (401) 364-0170


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