JIS News

Conservator of Forests, Marilyn Headley, has pointed out that most land slippage as a result of Tropical Storm Gustav, occurred in deforested areas.
“There was little damage to trees,” she said in an interview with JIS News. “There was mainly land slippage and damage to infrastructure, and areas with good tree cover had the least damage,” she pointed out adding that this was a reminder of the importance of maintaining trees and constantly re-planting them.
“In observance of ‘National Tree planting Day’ on October 3,” she said “I am appealing to schools, community groups, NGOs and farmers, particularly in the hilly areas to collect the free seedlings available from the Forestry Department and plant these trees for crop shade or to restore cover on bare hillsides.”
She explained that hills without sturdy tree cover could not sustain agriculture, as crops would always be lost in heavy rains. “Rich top soil is also washed to the sea,” she added. “For food security and rural development, keeping trees on our hills is therefore critical. Our theme this year ‘Deforested hillside.Downstream disaster,’ is in keeping with this concept,” Miss Headley noted.
The Conservator added that often, farmers cleared lands far too much, removing all cover and then re-planting bananas and plantain for shade, which although quick growing, were easily lost in bad weather, resulting in crop and soil loss. Forest trees, she informed, provided shade after about five years in the ground and lasted up to 25 years or more. As such they became permanent shade as they fared better in storms or hurricanes.
“When preparing land for farming every effort should be made to keep naturally occurring trees or inter-crop with temporary and permanent shade,” she advised.
Since National Tree Planting Day, was initiated five years ago, there has been a significant increase in urban forests, Miss Headley reported. She is therefore encouraging more planting of forest trees in rural areas such as the eastern Blue Mountains and Yallahs River Watershed, which suffered severe damage during this Atlantic Hurricane Season.
“Seedlings available from the Forestry Department this year are mahogany, silky oak, yucca, Spanish elm, niem, milkwood, cedar and other less known varieties that are suitable for watershed areas and inter-cropping. Riverbeds should also be re-planted,” she emphasised. “However, planting should be done at least 20 metres from the river to allow space for the river to expand after heavy rains,” she pointed out.
Miss Headley reminded large farmers with forest areas that they could declare these areas as forest reserves, and receive rebates on property taxes, following assessment and certification by the Forestry Department. She also encouraged land owners with forest trees to protect these and take advantage of the rebates.
“Other land owners could establish forest reserves by taking advantage of the free seedlings distributed by the Forestry Department each year, especially if their lands are not fully utilised,” she advised.