Aerial view of a section of Dolphin Head Forest Reserve
The Forestry Department writes to clarify points highlighted in the article entitled “Forests in peril; Call for balance as trees still being cut down for business,” published in the Sunday Observer on November 5.
The first and most urgent point of clarification is that the Forestry Department is an Executive Agency under the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. Secondly, the impression left with the reader is that harvesting trees is inherently negative. The Agency employs as one of its key strategies, Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) as it is internationally recognised that the managed harvesting and replanting of trees ensures a continuous supply of forest products while preventing overexploitation. Timber and forest products are essential for various industries, including but not limited to construction, furniture, paper, energy and food. The sustainable harvesting of trees, therefore, supports economic growth and job creation in these sectors.
The Agency is responsible for the management of Jamaica’s forests and tree resources and has sustainability as the core principle which governs our operations. Consequently, we employ a variety of approaches, some in law, some through social interventions and some, importantly, as we seek to do here, through education. This multifaceted approach allows us to work towards achieving responsible forestry practices to maintain a balance between the rate of tree removal and tree regeneration, ensuring the sustainability of forests for future generations.
The Agency has the legal mandate under the Forest Act, 1996 and Forest Regulations, 2001, for the conservation and sustainable management of Forest Estates, which include Forested Crown Lands, Forest Reserves and Management Areas. Contrary to the article’s connotation, there are strategies in place to ensure sustainable harvesting of trees. One such is the issuing of licenses and permits for harvesting activities from state-owned forests.
To ensure the sustainability of this activity, the Agency assesses forests planted with harvesting in mind and identifies suitable trees. Harvesting plans, which outline the quantity and timeline for the removal of timber, are developed, and these documents form a part of the Forest Management Plan (FMP) for each forest estate. It is only upon receipt of Ministerial approval that the Agency seeks to market the timber and implement the harvesting plan. It must be stressed that the FMP not only details the annual allowable cut but also dictates that all trees cut must be replaced through a strong reforestation plan, which ensures that trees, once harvested, are replanted quickly, which is usually within the next rainy season. It must be emphasised that it is illegal to harvest any forest produce from Forest Estates without a licence issued by the Conservator of Forests.
While the Agency does not manage privately owned land, it should be noted that anyone harvesting timber and forest produce from these areas without the permission of the landowner would be guilty of trespassing. Further the law requires anyone wishing to engage in sawmilling activities, to first apply for and obtain a sawmill licence. This Licence is required to transport or use a power-driven saw; it is also needed for the trade, storage or purchase of locally produced lumber for commercial purposes (including furniture manufacturing and lumber yards, using local lumber, regardless of whether a power saw is used in the operation).
The public is therefore strongly encouraged to ensure that they have the necessary permits, licences and permissions, before harvesting any timber, yam sticks or burning charcoal. Failure to do so may result in criminal or civil proceedings. The Agency actively prosecutes forest crimes under a fiat from the Director of Public Prosecutions, has successfully prosecuted many offenders, and has several active matters before the courts. All members of the public are invited to support our efforts by reporting forest crimes, assisting in our investigations and, where necessary, providing evidence in support of prosecution.
Beyond the management of state-owned forests, the Agency actively promotes and encourages sustainable forest management on privately owned lands. This is through our Private Forestry Programme and our Adopt-A-Hillside programmes, which allow individuals, private sector entities and other organisations to finance and undertake reforestation on denuded lands. We specially invite and encourage all businesses consuming forest products to collaborate with us to identify ways and means of making their activities more sustainable and to partner in reforestation efforts.
The Agency is fervently committed to continuous improvement, always doing more, and raising the standards of our local industry. In collaboration with the Bureau of Standards Jamaica and with the support of the European Budget Support Programme (EU-BSP) we are now in the final stages of obtaining the approval of the Forest Stewardship Council (an international certification body) to deploy Interim National Standards for the forest sector in Jamaica. This, we anticipate, will be a game- changer as it will not only make our local forest products, once certified, more competitive globally, but it comes with mechanisms which allow for the traceability of timber and non-timber forest products. Forests and forest products bearing this certification will be affirmed as having met stringent international forest management standards and practices, allowing them to contribute more to economic growth and job creation.
While we encourage more responsible behaviour, we must advise that the data does not suggest a deforestation pattern in Jamaica today. The 2013 National Land Use Land Cover Change Assessment (LULCA) found that at 40 percent, forest cover had increased by 10 percent since 1998. The Agency is presently updating the LULCA, and preliminary findings suggest that forest and tree cover may have recorded further improvements. The updated LULCA is projected for completion by April 2024 and will include detailed information on the quality of the forest cover. The 2024 LULCA will form the basis of sustainable development planning and informed discourse for many years to come.
Nonetheless, the Agency recognises the over-exploitation of some tree species and has devised mechanisms to protect remaining trees while steps are taken to ensure increases in their populations. Further, recognising that we must facilitate a local timber industry with sustainable supplies, the Agency is actively diversifying its timber plantations in appropriate areas to meet these needs. Additionally, we continue to work with citizens and community-based organisations to address issues with the harvesting of yam sticks and charcoal production. We have successfully retooled some communities to engage in sustainable alternative livelihood activities, which reduce the demands on forests. Some two decades ago, the Agency, in collaboration with a yam farmer in St. Elizabeth, conducted a live yam-stick experiment using Bitter Damsel, a local tree species, which was highly successful. This approach was most recently replicated under the Alternative Livelihoods Projects component of the EU-BSP, which initially targeted 30 farmers in Auchtembeddie, but has since expanded to more than 40 farmers.
With the inclusion of Agroforestry as a strategic approach, we continue to encourage the adoption of these principles to ensure more sustainable farming practices while increasing productivity and food security in rural areas. Concurrently, urban and peri-urban forestry and streetscaping are increasingly being undertaken in our bid to make our urban spaces more liveable and climate-resilient.
In conclusion, harvesting trees and replanting are vital to supporting economic activities, ensuring a sustainable future for both human communities and the natural environment. Sustainable Forest Management is essential to maintaining ecological balance and safeguarding the numerous benefits that forests provide to our planet. The Forestry Department is committed to achieving and maintaining this balance and will continue to make sustainability the hallmark of our operations.