JIS News

The Forestry Department is spearheading the development of urban and community forests as part of efforts to increase the country’s forest cover.According to Rural Sociologist at the Forestry Department, Noel Bennett the move would entail incorporating more trees in cities and town to counteract the dense concrete foliage. “Urban forestry is really to incorporate more trees into the environment. The urban environment is a lot of concrete so the idea is to get more trees planted in the urban environment for aesthetic purposes, for shade, for fruits, and to improve the general ecology of the urban area,” he told JIS News.
An urban forest consists of all trees and associated plants growing in an urban area, whether a big city or a small town. Greenbelts that line major highways, trees in public parks as well as the individual trees in private gardens, are all components of urban forest. “It is a matter of doing it in areas that are available,” Mr. Bennett told JIS News, noting that the initiative “is driven by community groups and corporate entities, so it is for the people in the communities to contact the Forestry Department wherever they have community projects to plant trees in open spaces that could be developed.”
According to the Rural Sociologist, careful planning must be taken when developing these forests, in terms of deciding whether it should be for beautification, shade, fruits, or attracting bird life, among other things. These considerations will determine the type of trees that are planted.
“If it is an open space, then they need to make sure that the majority of the persons in the community are for it because people can destroy what you plant. you need to ensure that most if not all your community members are in agreement with your proposal,” Mr. Bennett said. Additionally, he said, attention must be paid to the location of the trees because if they are too close to buildings, this may cause problems, particularly with roots, which may grow and crack sidewalks and other paved areas. Further, he added, maintenance is another factor that must be considered when planting. Before planting, Mr. Bennett has advised citizens to call the Forestry Department or visit the office at 173 Constant Spring Road and talk to an officer. “The officer will come out and make an assessment and make recommendations on the type of trees that should be planted and give instructions as to how it could be done. The officer will also participate in the planting by showing the community members the spacing and how to go about planting it and how to maintain it overtime.”
While the Department provides guidance and monitoring for community forests, Mr. Bennett informed that the primary care for the trees was in the hands of the citizens.
The Department provides a variety of seedlings to communities wishing to develop forests. These include timber trees including cedar, mahogany, mahoe, and ornamental trees such as puis and poor man’s orchid. Mr. Bennet said the seedlings are mostly offered free of cost but assured that in instances where there are costs attached to some of the species, these are minimal, “so the cost of establishing any area of trees for community beautification in terms of the provision of the seedlings and the technical advise is borne by the Department and ultimately the government”.
Speaking to the long term benefit of the forests to the community, he said, that, “you want trees to help to provide relief from a boring concrete environment, the trees provide shade, provide for bird and other animals to live, the trees will provide some shelter from winds, it helps with control of dust and such pollutants plus remember trees take in carbon dioxide that we breath out”.
An average of 20 hectares (50 acres) of trees are needed to absorb the carbon dioxide released from one car over its lifetime. Planting trees on the south and west side of an house or office building can reduce energy costs by 20 to 50 per cent. In addition, trees can enhance property values, increase community pride and serve as a buffer for traffic noise. It is estimated that Jamaica has a land area of 10, 991 square kilometers. In a land use cover survey done in 1998, it was revealed that 30 per cent of the island had forest cover with 110, 000 hectares designated forest reserve, while 428, 000 hectares was estimated to be non-forest land.