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Date: Sat, 13 Jun 98 14:13:18 CDT
From: Mark Graffis <ab758@virgin.usvi.net>
Article: 36690
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Forests bypassed by Jamaican Parliament

By Zadie Neufville, ENS, 12 June 1998

KINGSTON, Jamaica, June 12, 1998 (ENS) - Jamaica's tree planting programme has suffered a setback because Parliament has failed to approve a draft plan to replant denuded areas and manage the remaining forests. Forests on the Caribbean island nation are disappearing at an estimated rate of over 5 percent a year.

The Draft National Action Plan is crucial to the second stage of the "Trees for Tomorrow" programme, a joint project between the Canadian and Jamaican governments to improve management and conservation of Jamaican forests and tree crops.

The project which started in 1992, included the charting of some of the most densely forested regions of the island and the cloud-covered and most uncharted and protected rainforest, the Blue and John Crow Mountains, which has been designated a national park.

Under Jamaica's 1996 Forestry Act, the Ministry of Agriculture's Forestry Department was mandated to prepare a draft management plan by October of this year.

The plan is also important if Jamaica is to challenge a 1995 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report which puts the island among the most serious cases of deforestation in the world. According to the report, Jamaica is losing forest cover at a rate of 5.3 per cent a year.

Local experts are challenging the report because of what they describe as an error in the interpretation of data collected. According to Owen Evelyn, national project manager in the Department of Forestry, the FAO's findings were the result of a mistake in the definitions used in data defining forested areas. But without the plan, they cannot prove the FAO wrong.

The Forestry Officials confirm that the Action Plan will now not be ready before 1999. A National Action, the Department confirmed, is key to controlling future tree loss. This is especially important as a report tabled in Parliament five years ago stated that the Forestry Department does not know how much land it controls.

Phase Two of the "Trees for Tomorrow" programme, aimed at strengthening the forestry sector, started two months ago. One important part of this phase is the strengthening of the Forestry Department ability to manage the country's forest reserve, important since Jamaica is one big watershed. The water tables are very high and the limestone base makes them vulnerable to seepages.

The Department pointed the finger of blame at Parliament for its delays in passing the Act. Senior advisor at the Department of Forestry John Latham has said that field work has already started but, "It would take no less than a year to get things done."

Latham said that this year, the department would continue to work on an interim plan that would have general requirements of the legislation.

Tree-cover loss in Jamaica has been linked to agriculture, logging, charcoal burning and large scale housing construction to deal with population growth.

The Forestry Department aims to replant plant 2,000 hectares (7.7 square miles) of trees by the year 2000, starting with 500 hectares this year, 700 next year, and 800 hectares in 2000.

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