Watersheds still under threat
It has been well documented that Jamaica has lost much of its forest cover to agriculture and urbanisation and other human activities, over the last few centuries.
In its profile of the country's natural environment, Jamaica's National Development Plan Vision 2030, which was published in 2009, the Planning Institute of Jamaica noted that 94 per cent of Jamaica's "forests are disturbed and that more than 20 per cent of land within forest reserves has been impacted by human activity". The profile also notes that almost all of the island's watersheds have been impacted by human activity and have experienced some level of degradation.
The Forestry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, in its National Forest Management and Conservation Plan which was first published in the 1990s, also noted at the time that "about 30 percent of Jamaica, approximately (336,000 hectares) is classified as forest". The plan also said a majority of forest land has been disturbed and degraded, and only about eight percent of the island remains as natural forest showing little evidence of human disturbance.
"Forests are threatened by industrial, agricultural and urban development. Approximately 110,000 hectares of land are designated as forest reserves, but over one third of forests in reserves or other protected areas have been significantly disturbed by human encroachment," the plan stated.
According to Jamaica's Watershed policy, the island is divided into 26 Watershed Management Units comprising all the land from the mountains to the sea and containing over 100 streams and rivers. It noted that natural conditions of instability in Jamaica's watersheds were being aggravated by several types of human activities including unsuitable farming practices such as over-cultivation on steep slopes, which has been recognised as the single most important cause of watershed degradation on the island.
"Large scale removal of trees from watershed areas, illegal mining, unproved and informal quarrying of sand and limestone, housing programmes and squatter settlements have contributed to the high rate of deforestation," the policy document said.
"Studies undertaken by the Forestry Department have shown that watershed degradation occurs mostly in parishes where bauxite mining is being done, resulting in reduced tree and vegetative cover and productivity of land, heavy siltation of rivers, reservoirs, irrigation canals water intakes beaches and harbours, as well as loss of habitat among other things," the document stated.