'Happy balance' for forests disputed
AS JAMAICA seeks to manage its forests to, among other things, help build climate change resilience, there is need for a 'happy balance' between those who would exploit them for a quick buck and those who would have them remain untouched.
So says Daryl Vaz, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, which has responsibility for climate change and the environment.
"Some forest products are evident: wood for construction, furniture making and other endeavours as well as non-timber products such as food and medicines. But our forests also have the potential to support initiatives in emerging industries, such as ecotourism and nutraceuticals, which could support flourishing livelihoods in communities adjacent to our forests and increase the contribution of our forests to our gross domestic product," he noted.
Vaz was speaking at stakeholder consultations on the new National Forest Management and Conservation Plan, held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in Kingston on March 21, International Day of Forests.
Utilisation of forests
"Of course, how our forests are utilised depends on the mindsets of the users. Someone who is intent on making money at all costs is less mindful of the impact on our forest cover. The true value of a forest to such a person lies primarily in its total exploitation. Under the Forest Act, we are monitoring and bringing the law to book against such unscrupulous persons," Vaz said.
"At the other extreme end, you may find some environmentalists, to whom only the untouched forest in its pristine condition is good enough. We have to find the happy balance between these two extremes so that what is utilised from our forests is restored through replanting and other initiatives," he added.
However, head of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), Diana McCaulay, holds that the pursuit of this 'happy balance' is tantamount to chasing smoke.
"I don't know what is meant by that. We have already lost about 70 per cent of our forests. What remains is 30 per cent and not all of that is natural forest," she told The Gleaner.
"We are way past balance. What we are trying to do is fight for the few remaining natural resources we have. It is not that we are starting from the position that the island is untouched and we are going to have no development. We have lost most of it," the JET chief executive officer added.
Meanwhile, Vaz said the 'happy balance' is one of the aims of the new forest plan, through "engaging our stakeholders in the utilisation of our forests in a sustainable manner so that future generations may benefit".
"The Forestry Department has stated that Jamaica has, over the years, lost quite a bit of its closed broadleaf forests. Three thousand, five hundred and ninety four hectares of that original forest cover has been lost between 1998 and 2013, with just 7.7 per cent remaining, and most of that is in the Cockpit Country and the Blue Mountain," he noted.
"As such, the focus of the Forestry Department for the next five to 10 years will be to ensure that the percentage of remaining closed broadleaf forest is not diminished in any way, but in addition to that, to ensure that the forest cover is increased through an aggressive reforestation programme," he added.
"These actions have to be underpinned by a sustainable National Forest Conservation and Management Plan that seeks to balance the ecological, socio-economic and cultural aspects of our forest use," Vaz said further.