November 11, 2005

Forest conservation a must

It is difficult to quantify the true economic value of the forests. The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, however, has acknowledged their role in its plans to sustain economic development. St. Vincent and the Grenadines is also a member of the international environmental conventions aimed at protecting the forests, and participates in their fora and programmes.{{more}}

Forests cover approximately 28% of St. Vincent and vary in type and composition from the drier coastal areas at low elevations characterized by secondary growth of shrubs and semi-deciduous woodlands to wetter, higher altitudes in the interior characterised by rain forests, palm brake and elfin or dwarf forests. In the Grenadines, mangrove forests in Mustique, Canouan and Union Island are of special importance to fisheries and coastal protection in addition to wildlife.

Because it is difficult to put a monetary value on forest resources they are not reflected in the national accounts and budget. However, it is important to recognize that the forests constitute and/or support most of the country’s biodiversity, protect the many steep slopes from erosion, and maintain the surface water flow. When you start to evaluate the influence of the forests on our economic and social activities, you will begin to appreciate their value. Think of the wonderful climate that is experienced. The forests help to modify it to suit our needs: water for agriculture, domestic and manufacturing use and irrigation. The forests also are important to tourism and fisheries. Reflect on that.

Indeed, Vincentians have tended to take the forests for granted and have looked on them largely as wasteland, to be cleared for other purposes. Their true value has not been credited. In addition to Government’s legislative protection and management programmes, the rugged and steep terrain has, fortunately, discouraged human occupation beyond what it is today.

Over the last 60 years, the forest cover has been reduced from 50% on St. Vincent to its present level. This is related to population growth and the resultant increase in demand for land for housing, agriculture, industry and infrastructural development. There has been some greed involved but the greatest threat to the limited forest resources is poverty. Unemployed persons engage in charcoal burning, farming and hunting. The clearing of forests for the cultivation of marijuana has accelerated the process of deforestation over the last fifteen years.

In recent years, also, much of the remnant coastal and urban vegetation has been removed. This is a matter of concern as the land is exposed and the microclimate is being changed, making it more uncomfortable. The full effects of the warming trend will be felt with the absence of the vegetation which would normally provide an ameliorating effect.

We have seen recently, also, an increase in the number and severity of storms in the region. St.Vincent and the Grenadines has been fortunate so far in this respect but it is inevitable that we will experience a major hurricane at some point in time. Strong wave action is to be expected and a tsunami type event should not be discounted. In these circumstances, the removal of coastal vegetation, including mangroves, leaves the land fully exposed to such events.

Mangroves, seaside grapes and other coastal vegetation are excellent coastal defence. This was proven when the tsunami struck Asia nearly a year ago. Coastal areas protected by similar types of vegetation were least affected by the tsunami. Coral reefs are also good protective barriers between the land and the sea. However, they are also under threat from sedimentation caused by deforestation, as well as other forms of pollution. Destruction of these valuable buffers means that other more expensive measures would have to be put in place, causing additional strain on limited financial resources.

It is inevitable that, as the needs and demands of the population and development grow, the pressure on the forests for competing uses will also grow. This is already happening. It is also a matter of history that when the economic situation is bad and poverty levels rise the environment suffers. Poverty and economic downturns lead to environmental degradation.

Ironically, man’s preoccupation with creating wealth out of available natural resources quite often leads to the destruction of those very resources and, thereby, compromises the capability of those resources to sustain or support development.

These resources must, therefore, be conserved for the future to ensure a good quality life, nay life itself perhaps, to be sustained. And while we focus here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on conserving our own forests, we must view it in the light of a shared stewardship of, and responsibility for, a global heritage.

The National Trust office in the Old Public Library Building is open every afternoon; Mondays and Fridays 12 noon to 4 p.m. and Tuesdays to Thursdays 1 to 5 p.m.