Rules and Regulations for Enforcement of the Farm, Forest, and Open Space Act


250-RICR-40-20-1 ACTIVE RULE

1.1 Purpose

These rules establish requirements for implementation of the Farm, Forest, and Open Space Act. The Department of Environmental Management, Divisions of Forest Environment and Agriculture in cooperation with cities and towns are responsible for administering the program. These regulations will: define properties eligible for inclusion; set eligibility requirements; specify standards for continued eligibility.

1.2 Authority

These rules and regulations are promulgated pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws Chapter 44-27 and R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 44-5-39 through 41.

1.3 Application

The terms and provisions of these rules and regulations shall be liberally construed to permit the Department to effectuate the purposes of state law, findings and policies in accordance with the following rules and regulations which establish eligibility.

1.4 Definitions

A. For the purposes of these regulations, except as provided below, the following terms shall have the following meanings:

1. “Actively devoted to agricultural or horticultural use” means land used, under normally acceptable practices, in the production of plants and animals useful to people including but not limited to: forages and sod; fruits of all kinds including nuts, berries, grapes and vegetables; floral, ornamental and greenhouse products, the growing of Christmas trees; dairy animals and dairy products; poultry and poultry products; sheep and sheep products; beekeeping; livestock including beef cattle, swine, horses and mules, the stabling of horses; the commercial breeding or grazing of any or all such animals for the production of meat, milk, fiber in saleable livestock; and the production of fish, shellfish, plant material and fish products through aquacultural practices.

2. “Actively managed” means forestland managed in accordance with the provisions of a written forest stewardship plan for the enhancement of forest resources.

3. "Agricultural operations" means as used in this Chapter, includes any commercial enterprise which has as its primary purpose horticulture, viticulture, viniculture, floriculture, forestry, stabling of horses, dairy farming, or aquaculture, or the raising of livestock, furbearing animals, poultry, or bees.

4. “Assessor” means the appointed individual or elected board, or other person or agency charged with the duty of assessing real property in a municipality.

5. “Conservation plan” means a written plan outlining Best Management Practices consistent with U.S. Department of Agriculture standards and approved by the District and Director.

6. “Department” means the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

7. “Director” means the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management or his/her authorized designee.

8. “District” means the Conservation District organized under R.I. Gen. Laws Chapter 2-4.

9. "Dual use generation unit" means a raised generation unit that allows for agricultural production to continue on the land beneath the solar photovoltaic modules or wind turbine structure that allows for agricultural production to continue around it, under normally acceptable practices.

10. “Farm, forest and open space land value subcommittee” means the Subcommittee of the State Conservation Committee established under R.I. Gen. Laws Chapter 2-4.3 to recommend to the R.I. Department of Administration to be transmitted to each city or town tax assessor the methodology and values for the assessment of land for property taxation on the basis of current use for farm, forest and open space lands as established by R.I. Gen. Laws Chapter 44-27 and R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-5-12.

11. “Farmer” means the principal person engaged in agricultural operations as indicated for income tax purposes.

12. “Farmland” means any tract(s) of land, exclusive of house site, that meets any one of the following conditions and which has a Farm Forest and Open Space conservation plan, either applied for or in force within the past 10 years that is consistent with U.S. Department of Agriculture standards.

a. "Land" means actively devoted to “agricultural or horticultural use.”

b. Land which constitutes a “farm unit” which means land owned by the farmer, including woodland and wetlands, at least (5) acres of which are actively devoted to agricultural and horticultural use and which have produced an annual gross income from the sale of its farm products of a least $2500.00 in one of the two preceding years.

c. Land that is actively devoted to agricultural and horticultural use by a “subsistence farmer” who derives his or her primary means of sustenance from the consumption of agricultural products grown on their land. Non-farm related income must be low enough to make them eligible for assistance under Title 20 Programs.

d. Land which meets the qualifications for payments with the Federal Government for a conservation set aside, or it has a combination of income, crop and acreage which in the Director’s opinion qualifies this land for inclusion as a farm.

13. “Forestland” means any tract or contiguous tracts of land, ten (10) acres or larger, exclusive of house site, bearing a dense growth of trees, including underbrush and young regenerating forest and ancillary habitat areas having either the quality of self-perpetuation, or being dependent upon its development by the planting and replanting of trees in stands of closely growing timber, actively managed under a stewardship plan approved by the Director.

14. “Forest stewardship plan” or “Management plan” means a plan prepared by a professionally qualified forester, that incorporates landowner objectives into an action based plan for the purpose of enhancing forest resources, which may include cultural operations to improve, where feasible and practical, wildlife habitat, forest health, forest quality, watershed protection, soil stability, water quality protection, aesthetics, the atmosphere, and passive non-commercial recreation. To qualify, the plan must meet minimum criteria established in §1.14 of this Part. Applicants should apply with the “Application for Designation of Farmland or Forestland”.

15. "Generation unit" means a facility that converts a fuel or energy resource into electrical energy.

16. “House site” means the zoned lot size or one acre, whichever is smaller containing a house, and land under and surrounding dwellings or devoted to developed facilities, such as tennis courts, pools, etc., related to the use of the residence.

17. “Open space” or “Open space land” means any tract or contiguous tracts of undeveloped land, where the undeveloped land serves to enhance agricultural values, or land in its natural state that conserves forests, enhances wildlife habitat or protects ecosystem health, and that are:

a. Ten (10) total acres or larger, exclusive of house site; or,

b. Tracts of land of any size that are designated as open space land in the town’s comprehensive community plan; or,

c. Tracts of land of any size that have conservation restrictions or easements in full force.

18. “Owner” means the person recorded as the owner on the deed.

19. “Person” means any individual, firm, corporation, co-operative, limited liability company (LLC), natural person, trust, estate, non-business entity, partnership, or other association or form of organization which can hold title to personal or real property interests under Rhode Island law.

20. “Professionally qualified forester” means a person who has graduated, with at least a bachelor’s degree in forestry, from a school recognized by the Society of American Foresters, or who possesses equivalent qualifications approved by the Director.

21. “Under normally acceptable practices” means management of the farm using cultivation and husbandry techniques including but not limited to techniques for the proper animal and plant densities and spacing, harvesting techniques, soil conditioning and preservation techniques, erosion control practices, waste disposal techniques, cover crops, and rotation cycles recommended by the University of Rhode Island, U.S. Department of Agriculture, recognized producers organizations and seed and implement manufacturers for Rhode Island soils and practices approved by the DEM Agricultural Advisory Committee.

1.5 Taxation of Farm, Forest, and Open Space Land

A. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-27-10.1(a), farmlands classified in the farm, forest or open space program shall not be subject to a land use tax change if the landowner converts no more than twenty percent (20%) of the total acreage of land which is actively devoted to agricultural or horticultural use to install a renewable energy system.

B. Any acreage utilizing a dual use generation system, as defined in § 1.4 of this Part, shall not be included in the calculation of the twenty percent (20%) restriction.

1.6 Application for Designation of Farmland

A. An owner of land may file a written application with the Director for its designation by the Director as farmland. When the application is made and after a filing fee of ten dollars ($10.00) is paid, the Director shall examine the land. If the Director determines that the land is farmland, then the Director shall issue a certificate designating the land as farmland. The Director shall furnish a copy of the certificate to the owner of the land, and shall file one copy of the certificate in the office of the assessor of the city or town in which the land is located.

B. An owner of land designated as farmland by the Director may also apply to the assessor of the city or town where the land is located for its classification as farmland on any assessment list maintained by the city or town. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-27-3(c)(1), such an application must be filed with the assessor of the city or town not earlier than thirty (30) days before nor later than thirty (30) days after the date of assessment, except that in years of revaluation the application must be filed not later than thirty (30) days after written notice of revaluation or in its absence after receipt of the tax bill. The Director’s designation of that land as farmland must be valid as of a date at or prior to the date of the assessment. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-27-3(d), the application must be made on a form prescribed by the assessor and include a description of the land and the date of issuance of the Director’s certificate of designation.

C. Application to the Director for designation as farmland shall be made upon forms prescribed by the Director and shall include a description of the land and any other information that may be required to aid the Director in determining whether the land qualifies for that designation. For continuing eligibility, the property is subject to re-inspection by the Director every 5 years or at the request of the tax assessor subject to the management recommendations prescribed by the plan and approved by the Director.

D. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-27-2(1)(iii), farmland shall be taxed according to agricultural use based upon the following five (5) categories:

1. Ornamental Crops: Including land devoted to floriculture, nursery and turf production, as well as land under greenhouses,

2. Vegetable and Orchards: Including small fruits, potatoes, cranberries, and Christmas trees,

3. Dairy and Livestock: Including forage crops, hay, silage corn and grain, and aquaculture,

4. Forest and Wasteland: Which is part of the farm property.

5. Renewable on Farmland/Dual Use Generation Units, in accordance with the following conditions:

a. the Dual Use Generation Unit will not interfere with the continued use of the land beneath the unit or around the structure for agricultural purposes;

b. the Dual Use Generation Unit is designed to optimize a balance between the generation of electricity and the agricultural productive capacity of the soils;

c. the Dual Use Generation Unit is a raised or freestanding structure allowing for continuous growth of crops underneath the solar photovoltaic modules or around the turbine, with height enough for labor and/or machinery as it relates to tilling, cultivating, soil amendments, harvesting, etc. and grazing animals;

d. annual reporting to the Division of Agriculture of the productivity of the crop(s) pursuant to §§ 1.6(D)(1) and (2) of this Part and herd, including pounds harvested and/or grazed, herd size growth, success of the crop, potential changes, etc., shall be provided after project implementation and throughout life of the Dual Use Generation Units. Annual reporting shall include, but not be limited to:

(1) dual-use being utilized (i.e. solar generation unit or wind turbine)

(2) total gross acres of open farmland to be integrated with the project;

(3) type of crop(s) to be grown, including grazing crops;

(4) pounds of crop(s) projected to be grown and harvested, or grazed;

(5) animals to be grazed with herd size(s); and

e. installation shall comply with applicable Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review regulations, Title 450, and State Building Code Commission regulations, Title 510, as amended, and all other applicable laws and regulations.

f. All ground mount solar generation project must develop a vegetative management plan (annual landscaping, mowing, etc. surrounding the Dual Use Generation Unit) with the local fire official for a fire permit to be issued for the project. Under this requirement projects are not required to build their solar systems on crushed stone surfaces anymore.

g. Applicants are required to submit a current conservation plan to the Department that ensures continued viability of the farmland during and after the prescribed life of the renewable energy project.

E. Recommended values for farmland will be periodically determined by the Farm, Forest and Open Space Land Value Subcommittee.

1.7 Application for Designation of Forestland

A. An owner of not less than ten (10) acres of land may file a written application with the Director for its designation by the Director as forestland. When the application is made and a filing fee of ten dollars ($10.00) is paid, the Director shall examine the land. If the Director determines that the land is forestland, then the Director issues a certificate designating the land as forestland. The Director shall furnish a copy of the certificate to the owner of the land, and shall file a copy of the certificate in the office of the assessor of the city or town in which the land is located.

B. An owner of land designated as forestland by the Director may also apply to the assessor of the city or town where the land is located for its classification as forestland on any assessment list maintained by the city or town. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-27-4(c)(1), such an application must be filed with the assessor of the city or town not earlier than thirty (30) days before nor later than thirty (30) days after the date of assessment, except that in years of revaluation not later than thirty (30) days after written notice of revaluation or in its absence after receipt of the tax bill. The Director’s designation of the land as forest land must be valid as of a date at or prior to the date of the assessment. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-27-4(d), the application must be made on a form prescribed by the assessor and include a description of the land and the date of issuance of the Director’s certificate of designation.

C. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 44-27-2(2), 44-27-4(b) and 44-27-7, in order to maintain a certificate of designation for forestland issued by the Director, the landowner must update and submit a revised forest stewardship plan at the end of each ten year period prepared by a professionally qualified forester meeting the minimum criteria established in § 1.14 of this Part. Applicants should apply with the “Application for Designation of Farmland or Forestland”. For continuing eligibility, the property is subject to re-inspection by the Director every 5 years or at the request of the tax assessor and subject to the management recommendations prescribed by the plan and approved by the Director.

D. Application to the Director for designation of land as forestland shall be made upon a form prescribed by the Director and shall include a description of the land and any other information that may be required to aid the Director in determining whether the land qualifies for that designation. The application shall be accompanied by a forest stewardship plan prepared by a qualified professional forester in accordance with minimum criteria established in § 1.14 of this Part. Applicants should apply with the “Application for Designation of Farmland or Forestland”.

E. Recommended values for forestland will be periodically determined by the Farm, Forest and Open Space Land Value Subcommittee.

1.8 Application for Designation of Open Space Land

A. All applications for classification of land as open space must be made to the assessor of the city or town where the land is located. The Director is not authorized to designate open space land pursuant to this act. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-27-5, an owner of land may apply for its classification as open space land on any assessment list of a city or town by filing a written application for that classification with the assessor of the city or town, not earlier than thirty (30) days before nor later than thirty (30) days after the date of assessment, except in years of revaluation when the landowner may file not later than thirty (30) days after receiving written notice of revaluation or in its absence after receipt of the tax bill. The assessor determines whether the land meets the definition of “open space” in these regulations and if the assessor determines that it is open space, the assessor classifies the land as open space land and includes it as open space on the assessment list.

B. Recommended values for open space will be periodically determined by the Farm, Forest and Open Space Land Value Subcommittee.

1.9 Revocation of Farmland or Forestland Designation

A. When requested to do so by the assessor or whenever the Director deems it necessary, the Director shall re-examine a farmland or forestland designation. If the Director finds that the property no longer qualifies as farmland or forestland, then the Director shall act to revoke the certificate of designation. Any action to revoke a certificate of designation shall be preceded by a notice to the owner of the land in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-35-14(c) stating the facts or conduct that support revocation of the certificate and providing the owner with a time within which to demonstrate compliance with the requirements necessary to retain the farmland or forestland designation. If the owner fails to demonstrate sufficient compliance to retain the farmland or forestland designation, then the Director shall initiate administrative proceedings pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-17.1-2(21) to revoke certificate of designation. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 42- 17.7-9, 44-27-3(b) and 44-27-4(b), the notice of revocation shall inform the owner that he/she has thirty (30) days to bring the land into compliance or to request a formal administrative hearing.

B. Whenever a compliance order that finds that the land is no longer farmland or forestland shall become effective, whether after the hearing or automatically after thirty (30) days where no hearing has been requested, the Director shall issue a certificate revoking the designation as per R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 44-27-3(b) and 44-27-4(b). The certificate of revocation shall be issued in duplicate with one copy going to the landowner and one copy being filed in the office of the assessor of the city or town in which the land is located. Revocation of certificate of designation by action of the Director makes the land subject to the land use change tax pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 44-5-39.

1.10 Criteria for Revocation of Designation of Farmland

A. The Director may revoke a certificate designating land as farmland whenever the land is used in a manner that is inconsistent with its management as farmland, including but not limited to situations where:

1. The land remains unused for two (2) planting seasons for reasons other than federal (or state) set asides.

2. Operations to strip topsoil or to mine sand or gravel or other minerals, other than for on-farm uses, are undertaken on designated land.

3. Building permits for structures not directly related to the farm operation are obtained or construction for such structure commences.

4. The procedures and schedule outlined in the Conservation Plan for the property are not followed.

1.11 Criteria for Revocation of Designation of Forestland

A. The Director may revoke a certificate designating land as forestland whenever the land is used in a manner that is inconsistent with its management as forestland including but not limited to situations where:

1. The procedures and schedule outlined in the forest stewardship plan for the property are not followed.

2. Operations to strip topsoil or to mine sand or gravel or other minerals, other than for improvements to subject forestlands, are undertaken on designated land.

3. Building permits for structures not directly related to the forest operation are obtained or construction for such structure commences.

1.12 Appeals

Any person who has exhausted all administrative remedies available to him/her within the agency and who is aggrieved by a final order of the Director in a contested case may seek appellate review pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-35-15 of the Administrative Procedures Act, by filing a complaint in the Superior Court within thirty (30) days after mailing of notice of the Director’s final decision.

1.13 Superseded Rules and Regulations

On the effective date of these Rules and Regulations, all previous Rules and Regulations, and any policies regarding the administration and enforcement of the Farm, Forest, and Open Space Act promulgated by the Secretary of State on October 2, 1980 shall be superseded. However, any enforcement action taken by, or application submitted to, the Department prior to the effective date of these Rules and Regulations shall be governed by the Rules and Regulations in effect at the time the enforcement action was taken, or application filed.

1.14 Forest Stewardship Plan Requirements for Enrollment in the Farm, Forest and Open Space Program.

A. As a condition of enrollment in the Farm, Forest and Open Space Program Forest Stewardship Plans must meet the following minimum specifications.

1. Title Page.

a. Owner and preparer information including contact information

b. Property Information including plat and lot number, deed book and page, and acreage enrolled in the program as well as excluded acreage.

2. Signature Page

a. Signatures of the landowner, plan preparer, and State Forester's representative

b. Date the plan was prepared.

3. Property Overview.

a. A brief discussion of adjacent land uses as well as significant resources and features on the property that may impact management decisions. The discussion may include:

(1) Biodiversity

(2) Threatened and rare plant and animal species

(3) Riparian and wetland areas

(4) Soil and water quality – Watershed Protection

(5) Forest health

(6) Wildlife management

(7) Forest products

(8) Cultural Resources

(9) Recreation and aesthetic considerations

4. Management Unit Information

a. For each management unit (or stand) reference to the property map and description of:

(1) Forest type

(2) Acreage to nearest whole acre

(3) Stand Description, including

(4) Stocking level

(5) Basal area

(6) Average tree diameter

(7) Trees per acre

(8) Volume of forest products per acre (optional)

(9) Site index

(10) Soil type

(11) Landowner’s management objectives for the area

(12) Other characteristics important to the management of the area

5. Management Recommendations

a. Recommended forest management practices to meet the landowner’s objectives, including activity, acreage involved and year to be accomplished.

6. Maps

a. Locus map of the property showing the property boundaries and property location in relation to the nearest major roadway intersection.

b. Forest Vegetation Map. 8 ½ x 11 (or folded to that size) showing the location of forest types as well as other significant features. The map must include:

(1) Name and address of landowner and town(s) where the property is located.

(2) Date map was prepared and person who prepared the map

(3) Scale and north arrow

(4) Property boundaries as well as major physical and political (town lines) depicted and labeled.

(5) Eligible land, as well as ineligible and non-committed land, delineated with acreage calculated to the nearest whole acre.

7. Activity Schedule

a. Summary of recommended actions for all management units, including measurable outcome and year to be accomplished.


Title 250 Department of Environmental Management
Chapter 40 Agriculture and Resource Marketing
Subchapter 20 Marketing
Part 1 Rules and Regulations for Enforcement of the Farm, Forest, and Open Space Act
Type of Filing Amendment
Regulation Status Active
Effective 05/12/2019

Regulation Authority :

R.I. Gen. Laws Chapter 44-27
R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 44-5-39 through 41

Purpose and Reason :

The purpose of these regulations is to update the requirements for implementation of the Farm, Forest, and Open Space Act to include provision regarding dual use renewable energy standards, and to make additional amendments as necessary. The Department of Environmental Management, Divisions of Agriculture and Forest Environment in cooperation with cities and towns are responsible for administering the program. These regulations will: define properties eligible for inclusion; set eligibility requirements; specify standards for continued eligibility. The purpose of this amendment is to reformat the regulation in accordance with the RICR and to make additional non-technical changes.  Reformatting of the regulation in accordance with RICR includes, but is not limited to, renumbering, movement of text, and elimination of duplicative or non-regulatory text, among other format changes. A summary of non-technical changes between current and proposed regulation by section is as follows:

Former Rule 3, Findings and Policy, was removed from the regulation. 

Section 1.4 has been updated to add definitions of “generation unit” and “dual generation unit,” and to revise existing language in several definitions, including language in relation to conservation plan requirements. 

Section 1.5 has been added in response to statutory amendments. 

Section 1.6 has been updated to include a section allowing an agricultural operation to use solar panels or wind turbines as a secondary use of the land, thereby allowing for both energy production and farmland agriculture to occur in the same footprint under specified standards. 

Section 1.7 has been updated to remove references to outdated RIDEM guidance documents and appendices. 

Section 1.12, Severability, was removed from the regulation. 

Former Rule 15, Effective Date, was removed from the regulation. 

All appendices have been removed from the regulation.