Jamaican Forest is Highly Disturbed – Conservator


Conservator in the 65-year-old Forestry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Marilyn Headley, has said Jamaican forests, although fairly young, were highly disturbed. She noted that the forests were being affected by the cutting down of trees for bauxite production, agriculture and infrastructure development. Additionally, she said hurricanes have also caused some damage to the forests.
She was speaking at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica’s (PCJ), ‘Wood and Water – Energy and Life,’ seminar held in recognition of ‘Wood and Water Day’ on October 7, at the PCJ auditorium, in Kingston.
Jamaica’s forest cover is approximately 31 per cent (335,000 hectares) of the country’s landmass, according to a recent report from the Forestry Department. It further stated that 30 per cent of this area is classified as mixed forest and comprise mainly herbaceous crops and bamboo. The remaining 39 per cent consists of commercial crops including coffee, banana, sugarcane and areas used for bauxite extraction and infrastructure. The Department manages ten per cent of Jamaica’s landmass, which is 109,000 hectares. Of that number 98,000 hectares are gazetted as crown lands.
The disturbed forest represents 16 per cent of the total forest cover, while the less disturbed or natural forest covers about 12 per cent. Within the less disturbed forest are, the closed broadleaf forest, which includes the John Crow Mountain; the Wet Limestone forest, the Blue Mountains, the Cockpit country, Dolphin Mountain, and the Dry Harbour Mountains, and covers eight per cent. The tall open dry forest, which forms part of the natural forest, covers four per cent of the island.
Miss Headley mentioned that a lot of the forest areas were unprotected except the closed broadleaf forest. Most of the protection status fell under forest reserves, while some are national parks, and others are bird or game sanctuaries. She added that there were others that had two forms of protection, national parks and forest reserves. She pointed out that in 1998 about 16.55 per cent of Jamaica’s forests were under protection but the Department was working to meet the recommended 20 per cent mark.
She informed that the area that was unprotected was the disturbed broadleaf forest, which was chiefly owned by private individuals and was not covered in the Forestry Act. This, she said, would soon be addressed.
The island is also divided into 26 major watershed management units. According to the State of the Environment report (SOE 2001), 17 have been declared critical, and in need of urgent remedial work. This is vital to improving the availability and quality of water.
Miss Headley said that various initiatives were introduced in an effort to protect, conserve, manage and expand the island’s watershed areas. “The aim of the Forestry Department is to sustain Jamaica’s wood and water. We have been campaigning to the private landowners and we have been getting some results. We have a number of large private landowners who have requested protection status and we are working with them,” she said.
The national forest management and conservation plan launched in 2001 has stated that the natural forest was not to be disturbed. The conservator said that even though permits would be granted at times for the removal of lumber, permission would not be given for lumber to be taken from the natural forest. However she stated that, “forest lands that are exploited for bauxite is not something we can control”.
At present there is an agreement with the Jamaica Alumina Company Limited (JAMALCO). “When they rehabilitate the area we encourage them not to just put the area back in grass or potato or some short term crop. The area that they took out of forest we want them to put that same amount of land back into forest.”
She said the Department was also working with Alumina Partners (ALPART), which was carrying out mining operations in a forest reserve. “The agreement is you (ALPART) will remove the forest, take out the bauxite but the trees have to be replanted. they are willing and are working with us,” she added.
The Conservator said the Department was working with a number of communities to develop plans to protect the forests. She said large landowners were being targeted specifically and were given seedlings as incentives.
So far, over 500 persons with varying sized lands have responded. “We feel we are now working with the converted, we now have to move into those who don’t believe us we are looking at other incentive packages to encourage private landowners to replant the land and to use areas that have been degraded. A lot of pasture land is out there, we are trying to encourage them to put at least some of it into forest and to get more individuals who want to declare their piece of land a protected area.”
The question is therefore, how to develop and ensure the sustainability of Jamaica’s forests. Throwing its energy behind the Ministry of Agriculture is the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ). Environmental Coordinator of the PCJ, David Barrett, in his presentation, stated that the organization was concentrating on developing and maintaining Jamaica’s indigenous energy resources. One area of prime focus, he said, was the maximization and sustenance of Jamaica’s fuel wood to satisfy growing charcoal demands.
The Environmental Coordinator added that the PCJ was committed to gathering data on the production of charcoal and fuel wood with emphasis on cost centres and technical issues. He said that all this would be examined in relation to the increasing rates of deforestation and the need for a sustainable supply of fuel wood to satisfy growing charcoal demands.
The PCJ’s demonstration fuel wood project was launched in 1995 at Font Hill in St. Elizabeth with the aim of conducting research to provide both financial and technical information on fuel wood production. Since the launch of the project, 33,700 trees have been planted with a survival rate of 90 per cent. In addition 70,000 leucaena seedlings have been produced and the cost of seedlings have been reduced.
Discussing the objectives of the fuel wood project, Mr. Barrett said they included the selection and planting of relevant fuel wood species; determining the growth performance of the species; the financial viability of fuel wood and charcoal production; the wood and charcoal yield, as well as the harvesting of the wood when it matured. He said the Forestry Department would make the research from the investigation available to the public and for potential use by industries.
The fuel wood species used in the project include, Acacia, Cassia (a relative of cinnamon), Casuarina (resembles pine), Leucaena (called wild tamarind) and Prosopsis (willow).
Two thousand trees were planted on carefully prepared and well-suited plots measuring .4 hectares each and were sampled about every six months using about five per cent of the trees to get weights and to do charcoaling.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Water and Housing, Harry Douglas, who also spoke at the seminar said, “we are all appalled at the alarming state of deforestation in our island, we cut down the trees to satisfy our energy needs without realizing the impact on water supply.”
He said that the challenge to the Ministry’s public education effort was to get people to see the impact of their actions on the environment and to understand the correlation between water and wood. He added that his Ministry was ready and willing to support any organization working towards the conservation of Jamaica’s natural resources.
Owen Evelyn, National Project Manager of the ‘Trees for Tomorrow’ project in the Forestry Department, said data showed that areas that were cut down were coming back into secondary growth and that the numbers were increasing. He added that it was hoped that this would continue and allow the Department to concentrate on other areas that were not yet a part of the forest reserves.
‘Trees for Tomorrow,’ which began in 1994, addresses sustainable development in a semi-tropical moist forest environment. The goal of the project is to improve the management and conservation of forests and tree crops for the sustainable benefit of the people of Jamaica. The immediate purpose is to strengthen the institutional capabilities in the Jamaican forest sector to plan and implement sustainable forest management and other soil and water conservation measures in Jamaica’s watersheds, and at the same time, increase awareness of the importance of forests throughout the country.

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