By Claudia Gardner
JAMAICA (JIS) March 21, 2018 — The Forestry Department has been quietly contributing to the success of tourism in Jamaica’s major vacation belt, through the work of the organisation’s Northwest Regional Office, which operates within the island’s forest reserves and forest management areas.
“The northwest region, which stretches from Hanover to St. Ann, covers a wide section of the tourism area, so what we do is really important in terms of ridge to reef, as whatever happens inland will definitely impact the coastline in a very short time,” Regional Manager, Ian Wallace, tells JIS News.
According to the Forestry Act of 1996, the functions of the Department include the sustainable management and conservation of forests on Crown lands or in forest reserves; the promotion of the development of forests on private lands; ensuring reforestation of suitable lands; and promoting agroforestry and social forestry programmes for the benefit of farmers, schools and any other interested persons.
The Forestry Department is also mandated to prepare forest inventories as well as demarcate and maintain forest boundaries; protect and preserve watersheds in forest reserves, protected areas and forest management areas; and develop programmes for proper soil conservation.
The condition of the marine environment of three of Jamaica’s six resort areas – Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios – rests to a large extent on the activities being undertaken in the uplands by Forestry Officers, which include the forest management and client services teams.
According to Wallace, the Department is cognisant of the fact that the success of the northwestern tourism belt is heavily dependent on the state of the marine environment, as most of the tourism activities are centred around the coastal zones of these urban centres.
As a consequence, he says, the reforestation program of the Department is of vital importance to the marine recreation sector, as steep slopes and high rainfall make these areas vulnerable to the effects of soil erosion, which is a “recipe for disaster”, as this smothers coral reefs and affects water quality and the state of the beaches.
“The geography of Jamaica, as you would realise, is a steep slope. The eastern side of the island, of course, is more rugged than the western side, but we tend to have a better coverage in terms of the areas in the west. The watersheds are not as degraded,” he explains.
“So our work is even more highlighted because of that, and this region, specifically, our officers are always reminded that we, especially, have to have everything done inland, because you are trying to protect the beach area and the tourism product. That is why the work of the Department is so important, not only to provide a healthy environment but because we are protecting livelihoods,” he adds.
The northwestern region’s office is situated in Catherine Hall in Montego Bay, St. James, where it provides monitoring of forest estates such as Horse Guard, Garlands, Fyffe and Rankine, Chatsworth, Montego Valley, sections of Retirement, Montpelier, York and Equity, among others.
The Forestry Department also protects reserves such as Hyde Hall Mountain, Hyde, Linton Park in Trelawny and the Dolphin Head Mountain Range, Cacoon Castle, Burnt Ground, Blenheim, Content and Kenilworth in Hanover, in addition to the Bogue Forest Reserve in St. Ann.
“The Forestry Department is responsible for all forest estates in Jamaica. The Forestry Department does not own lands. We manage, on behalf of the Government’s Commissioner of Lands, our forest reserves, forest management areas and crown lands,” Wallace told JIS.