KINGSTON — The Forestry Department, now an executive agency under the Ministry of Housing, Environment, Water and Local Government, wants Jamaicans to appreciate forests as areas for sustainable development and preservation of human wellbeing.
The Department has the mandate to protect and manage the country's forest reserves for the benefit of all Jamaicans. And it seeks, through different fora and media outlets, to educate the public and to engage communities living near, or on fringes of forest reserves, to become involved in their protection through the formation of Local Forest Management Committees.
The Committees function as advisory groups to the Conservator of Forests, on issues relating to the use and protection of local forest reserves.
"If you don’t have to cut don’t the trees, don’t cut it," stated Chief Executive Officer and Conservator of Forests, Marilyn Headley, in an interview with JIS News.
"We encourage persons not to cut down trees. Sometimes you have to cut a tree, so your next bet is to replant some trees. Persons in agriculture, don’t clear off the (entire) land, clear the area that you want to plant and leave some of the trees, or, if you had already have some land cleared, plant some trees,” Miss Headley advised.
Acknowledging that various types of farming might not be practicable with direct tree planting, the Conservator puts forward the view that the trees could be used as a parameter.
“If you are doing coffee, you could plant trees among the coffee. We encourage agriculture person to mix their agriculture with forest, and not to remove trees, in the first place,” he suggested.
Jamaica has an abundance of land covered with dense forests, and woodland. But, over the years, they have been subjected to pressures which have threatened their existence and their ability to contribute to the country’s socio-economic development, and the maintenance of the environment. Factors contributing the decline of forest resources include bad agricultural expansion and improper clearing of land for housing.
Also, contributing to the country’s forest challenge is the consumption of wood for energy, which results in deforestation and threats to water quality and yield, soil erosion and a general deterioration of the environment.
According to portfolio minister for the Forestry Department, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, critical stakeholders and the general public must look at new ideas for effective and proper management of the forests.
"It is critical to the quality of the environment, and it is critical to economic development,” the Minister told a recent seminar on forestry.
With a third of Jamaica classified as forests, and an estimated 330 hectares of forest lost every year, Dr. Chang is moving to have his Ministry develop a sustainable environmental policy, to ensure that the country protects the environment.
The Forestry Department explains that forests have many values other than producing timber and that they provide a myriad of environmental protection functions and have important aesthetic, cultural, spiritual, scientific and historical values.
"There is no better way to sequester the atmospheric carbon that we are producing from our cars, and to lock it away in a fashion that is a win/win situation,” stated Silviculture Manager at the Forestry Department, Lawrence Nelson.
Mr. Nelson pointed out that persons use the barks and the roots of the trees for special drinks and for medicinal purposes.
“We take it for granted because it is always there like air and sunshine, but it is as important as air and sunshine,” he noted.
He advised that reasonable income can be generated from tree planting, including Christmas trees, which give a return in three years.
“You can make a lot of money in that kind of active way… and for the long term, you can plant traditional forestry trees like Cedar and Mahogany,” Mr. Nelson said.
In 1998, the Forestry Department formalized a Private Planting Programme (PPP) which brought together its tree seedling distribution activities, particularly as they pertained to farmers and other landowners, into a structured pragramme where they receive free seedlings from the agency.
"We deliver seedlings to you free of cost, and give you technical advice for establishing them within the first couple of years of planting,” Mr. Nelson said.
Person who have their lands declared as gazetted forest areas can receive rebates on the land taxes and, for her part, Miss Headley wants persons “to look at the lands that they have, the lands that you haven’t looked at in a while, and give us a call and talk with us about replanting these areas, and if you must cut a tree, please get some seedlings before you cut the trees."
The United Nations has declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests, to raise awareness and strengthen the sustainable management and development of all types of forests for the benefit and future generations. The World Bank estimates that more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihood, 300 million of which actually live in these areas.
Current the European Union (EU) is providing funding of over 4 million Euros for a Caribbean Climate Change project, of which 1million Euros will be spent in Jamaica to rehabilitate watersheds and tackle deforestation challenges. The Jamaican leg of the project involves the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOP), the National Environmental and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Forestry Department, along with other partner agencies.
“We are looking at establishing more forestry management committees and identifying livelihood activities for them, and looking at additional forestry reserves, fire management programmme and to look at river training in the Dallas areas of St. Thomas. In the end we will have more rehabilitated watersheds, and communities involved in the management of the forests,” Miss Headley said.
By Garfield Angus, JIS Reporter