THE EDITOR, Sir:
The international conservation community recently became aware of Jamaica's charcoal export trade.
While we recognise the right and the need for Jamaicans to secure a diversified export market, we fear that severe exploitation of hardwoods will cause irreversible impacts to not only imperilled tropical dry forests, but ultimately the Jamaican people.
An export charcoal market would inflict further stress on the last remaining stands of tropical dry forest in Jamaica. In particular, we fear that a charcoal export trade would devastate the Hellshire Hills - arguably the most stellar remaining tropical dry forest in the insular Caribbean - causing the extinction of animals found nowhere else in the world.
According to published research conducted at the University of the West Indies, trees found in the Hellshire Hills are extremely slow-growing. These trees take up to 400 years to reach maximum size; therefore, the remaining forest is very old and may represent the only pristine forest remaining on the island. Once cut, micro-environmental conditions change, making it near impossible for the forest to regenerate to an original state.
The Hellshire Hills is also home to the Jamaican iguana, an animal found nowhere else in the world. The Jamaican iguana was highlighted last year as one of the 100 most endangered animals in a book titled 'Priceless or Worthless? The world's most threatened species'.
Without intervention from the University of the West Indies and the Hope Zoo, the iguana would probably have vanished entirely. Even so, they persist only within a 10km2 core zone that is protected from predators by traps.
Exporting charcoal is will surely accelerate the deforestation of Jamaica. One only has to look towards Haiti for a case study on how environmental degradation through deforestation (less than 1.5 per cent of its original tree cover remains) is partly responsible for the Haiti's troubled rank as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
We encourage serious discussion between forest managers and policymakers to prevent the unregulated and large-scale destruction of the irreplaceable tropical dry forests of Jamaica.
CHARLES KNAPP (PhD)
STESHA PASACHNIK (PhD)
Co-Chairs, IUCN SSC Iguana