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Novel Forestry Programme Advancing in Bahamas
Jul 24, 2013 - 3:13:17 PM

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The Ministry of Environment and Housing, in partnership with the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the Bahamas National Trust has launched a programme to train Bahamians in forestry management for sustainable economic development of the pine forests that abound on Abaco, Andros, Grand Bahama and New Providence. In addition to protecting the forests, one of the government’s goals is to create small sawmill industries in the target island for the production of sustainable wood products with the tourism industry as a principal clients. The project was piloted in Abaco, but the Ministry of Environment plans to to take the programme to other pine islands as well.

Among The Bahamas’ most valuable natural resources are the extensive pine forests on the islands of Abaco, Andros, Grand Bahama and New Providence. In the past, very little attention was paid to this national asset. Now, the Ministry of Environment & Housing is making a planned move towards sustainable management and economic development of the nation’s forests.

In 2010, the government passed important forestry legislation. In February 2012 the Ministry of Environment & Housing, in partnership with the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Bahamas National Trust (BNT), initiated a forestry programme to train Bahamians to protect and manage Bahamian forests. Abaco was chosen as the site for the pilot project and about 22 people trained to July 2013. Completion of this first phase is projected for January 2014

 Christopher Russell, Director of Forestry, Ministry of Environment & Housing described the training and what the Ministry hoped to achieve.

“What is happening, we’ve partnered with the FAO with a view of training Bahamians in government agencies, along with the park wardens of the National Trust, in basic forestry management precepts and concepts. What that means is that they have been given training and understanding in what forestry is all about, in terms of how do you go into the forest, how do you measure trees; diameters and heights and getting volume information, and doing calculations as to which trees you take out and which trees you retain as future crop trees,” Mr Russell said.

“At the same time they will be trained in using chainsaws; how to actually cut down pine trees in a proper way using proper techniques and proper equipment to actually cut down a pine tree. And also they’ll be trained in prescribed burning; how to actually go about in the forest area using fire as a management tool to ensure that your forest is managed, particularly a pine forest which requires fire for sustenance. So if you bring in fire under controlled conditions you can manage the forest in a way that can best enhance its productivity and that’s what we’re doing here,” the director said.

The Minister of Environment & Housing, Hon. Kenred Dorsett visited recently to be updated on the progress of the project.

“I’m here to, obviously, look at the FAO forestry pilot programme, but in our discussions about an economic sustainable framework for advancing forestry; ecotourism, looking at our blue holes and tourist offerings will be a part of that,” Mr Dorsett said.

The potential links between managed forestry and the tourism industry, which is The Bahamas’ main revenue source is an important driver of the initiative. As the agreement with the FAO notes, “the construction activities associated with tourism require large amounts of building material. Currently almost 100% of the required construction wood is being imported. Demand for timber resources would not only make the Bahamas less dependent on imports it would also retain financial resources in the country and create job opportunities especially in the Family Islands where tourism income is less than in New Providence and Grand Bahama Islands.”

Hon. Kenred Dorsett, Minister of Environment and Housing visited Abaco, to assess the progress of his Ministry’s pilot programme for training Bahamians in the management and sustainable development of the nation’s extensive pine forests. Abaco Minister Dorsett is shown in discussion with Christopher Russell, Director of Forestry, MEH; Claus Martin Eckelman, Regional Forestry Officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization (based in Barbados) and David Knowles, Director of Parks, Bahamas National Trust.

Minister Dorsett spoke of his Ministry’s concerns and goals in this regard.

“It’s one of the reasons why we want to advance the regulations so that we can once again protect the areas and insure that the proper trees are cut and used for charcoal, as opposed to them coming in the indiscriminate way and cutting down the ones that are valuable and can be used for a viable small industry commercial project through the creation of lumber that I hope can even be used for some of the homes that we intend to build here in Abaco under the governments housing program,” Mr Dorsett said.

At the time of the Minister’s visit, the project had progressed to Treasure Cay, where a tree-thinning operation was being conducted. Mr Russell explained the process.

“Now we’re in the Treasure Cay area which represents an area which is going to be harvested in terms of a thinning operation, where we have a concessioner who had been given a license to systematically thin out a small area in the Treasure Cay area. And the idea is to remove some trees to produce high-end timber products for the high- end market industry in The Bahamas…Then we’re going to go further south in the Marsh Harbour area were we have a pilot operation, a logging pilot project which is a part of our training program... We have a portable sawmill that we’ve set up in the southern part of Abaco. We’re going to take out some trees based on science, in terms of identifying trees that could be retained as future crop trees and taking out x amount of trees to produce sawn wood to demonstrate how we can use the pine forest on a small scale,” Mr Russell said.

The Ministry’s partners have been active in their contributions. Claus Martin Eckelman, Regional Forestry Officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization based in Barbados, was on hand to assist. The Bahamas National Trust has not only ensured the participation of its park wardens, who have formed the core group of the pilot project, but also transported its portable sawmill from Eleuthera to facilitate the instruction programme.

Sending trees through the saw mill for the thinning process to produce high-end timber. The operation is part of the Ministry of Environment and Housing’s pilot programme to train Bahamians in forestry management and sustainable lumber production to create enterprise, while protecting the value pine forests. The Ministry has partnered with the FAO and Bahamas National Trust in the project, which has already trained 22 people.

The Director of Forestry explained that, in past years, Abaco forests had suffered from improper harvesting and reseeding.

“In the past Owens Illinois was always given concessions by the government in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s to take out the pine forests… They took out the big trees and left. Well, the idea was to leave five seed trees per acre to reseed, but that was not sustainable in the sense of sustainable forestry practices… Sustainable means you take out only interest from the forest not the principal and everything else,” Mr Russell said.

Once the Abaco pilot is completed, the Ministry of Environment & Housing plans to take the forestry programme to other islands to encourage the establishment of a small lumber industry.

“Right now we’re using Abaco as the pilot island and, at the end of the day, whatever these persons would have learnt can be duplicated in any of the pine islands. So this basic training is the precursor to expanding to the other islands. In the event that we’re going to need to utilize those forests, they’ll be trained in how to monitor and provide oversight in the activity that’s going to take place in the future.

“We hope that this pilot activity; this training (will) encourage Bahamians to want to get into the sector, in terms of a small industry development. We want to establish small saw mills, we want to get into industries where Bahamians can benefit in the open small businesses to utilize the forest resources in a way that is sustainable and not destroy it as it has been done in the past. So we’re looking for small industry development from this whole exercise,” Mr Russell said.

Mr Russell noted that one of the greatest challenges in this regard is likely to be human and financial resources to manage a vast resource, which spans over a half a million acres of pine forest on crown lands alone, as well as coppice and mangrove systems. “So we’re talking about the entire country, which has forest potential,” he said.

For the Minister of Environment and Housing partnership is essential to the success of the new forestry plans.

“Well there’s no doubt in my mind that any economic sustainable model envisioning the incorporation of our blue holes and other natural resources would have to be done on the basis of a private public sector partnership, the government cannot do it on its own. So the model that we will follow will be where we find opportunities to invite the private sector to collaborate with the government to help us develop these natural resources and I’m hoping that that’s another opportunity that we will have to create green industry and green jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for Bahamians,” Minister Dorsett said.

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