Ronald Charles, Assistant Forest Officer
Forestry, Wildlife & Parks Division
In my years at the Forestry, Wildlife & Parks Division, I have come across few Dominicans who, strange as it may seem, have expressed the view that Dominica can exist without forests. Given my training, understanding and work experience I humbly beg to differ to their opinion.
As a forest officer, I have crissed-crossed the island taking the message of forest conservation into the schools, to community groups, Parent Teachers Associations’ meetings, and even to the staff of business organizations, among a host of other public entities. I have found that the vast majority of Dominicans share the view that in the absence of forests, the quality of life as we know it today in the Nature Isle would certainly be different. Yes! We all agree that Dominica’s economic fortunes are intricately woven into the fabric of a well managed forestry sector, especially with regards to the protective and conservation aspects of forests.
Given such profound national consideration and appreciation, the question remains: Have we given any serious consideration to playing an active participatory role in ensuring that Dominica’s forest resources receive optimal management? Does the role of ensuring the long-term survival of Dominica’s forests rest only with the state? Is talk and more talk, or simply identifying the issues sufficient enough to provide the kind of support that is required for maintaining our forests? Should we therefore identify the role of every sector (government, private, and to use a common expression “civil society”) and then seek ways and means to coordinate local efforts at conservation?
In so doing we will soon find out that the practice of the science of forestry in its widest sphere is everybody’s business. How can we in Dominica fail to see the relationship between water production and forests, and so conclude that it is not only a government responsibility, but indeed that of every citizen, to include the farmer, the planner, the engineer, the housewife, and others – including the youth? As we scan the development sphere of Dominica, isn’t it true that in the absence of forests, Dominica does not stand a snow ball (or ball of ‘flo’) chance in promoting tourism, since we do not have the expanses of white sand beaches as presently obtains on some of our neigbouring islands? Successive governments in Dominica have espoused an eco-tourism policy with the forests (trees, birds, aesthetics, water and everything natural) as the basis for our eco-tourism product. A fact of life that certain policy makers, hoteliers, vendors, taxi drivers, tour guides and tour operators here seemingly are not so in tuned with, except when it comes to making a quick buck.
Our forests provide us with extremely high quality fresh air that, given our preoccupation with life’s other challenges, we always make light of this invaluable gift which is “so rich and rare”. Our forest trees play a most invaluable role in cleaning up the air from poisonous gases. Dominica’s contribution to the large volume of dangerous hydro-carbons in the world’s atmosphere has been quantified as near negative. In fact, if we do our homework right and less of the talking, then we can benefit, in real dollars and cents terms for the quality of our air – our fresh air.
Dominica’s terrestrial biodiversity, and indeed in large measure our aquatic and marine biodiversity resources, is dependent on a healthy growing forest cover. It has already been determined that fifty to sixty different species of trees can be found growing on ten hectares of land here. Such is the dynamism of our natural resource base. When, in the mid-1980s to early 1990s Dominica produced a large percentage of its timber products, the country saved millions of dollars of scarce foreign exchange. The situation is different today as we import more than 80% of our wood and associated timber products.
Furthermore, if we present the mix of benefits to be derived from our forest resources, we cannot avoid singling out soil conservation. In the absence of forests and other vegetative cover, the rain falls directly on to the land, we lose the top soil and the nutrients therein, and all the water rushes downhill towards the lower reaches of the land and ends up in the waterways. The result is that hundreds of tons of soil are lost to agriculture. The aquifers in turn, which depend on rainfall for recharge, are starved of water. The end result is such that there are fewer and fewer good, reliable and adequate sources of water for human consumption here. Soil that has been displaced from the land mostly through inappropriate land management practices and is washed down the streams into the sea has the effect of covering and smothering the coral reefs which are home to reef fish, one of the key marine components of our nature tourism product.
The pharmaceutical industry could not survive in its present form without the hundreds of plant derivatives that come from the forest and are used as the active ingredients in the formulation of medicines. Even in the practice of our indigenous culture, forest plants play more than useful roles for relief from medical situations, i.e. pains, allergies, cuts etc. Bio-prospecting draws on the natural resources of natural areas, principally forests, for the production of goods for humanity. The practice of medicine as we know it today would most certainly be different today without forests.
The ordinary man is often left amazed at the keen interest that visitors to our shore show in our landscape. We see the mountains everyday and fail to see what is in there for such interest. But the visitors see it differently to us. They see literal beauty in the landscape, the mountains, the rivers and the trees. Yes! The trees. They find it intrinsic and pleasing to the eye. Until we travel out of Dominica, and see the destruction and damage caused to the natural landscape among our Caribbean neigbours and its consequential negative impact, then we fail to appreciate the richness of our natural landscape. They are beautiful to look at, present opportunities for economic activities such as landscape painting, and according to the experts, have a beneficial impact on the eye as the colour green, even in its various shades as found on Dominica, is “easy” on the eye.
We in Dominica cannot get away from the impact of forests on our everyday lives. Forests provide both tangible and intangible benefits to humanity. All of us in Dominica can boast of our relationship with the forests in one form or another. Whilst other countries can boast of significantly larger areas of forests, the majority of Dominicans have perhaps a more intimate relationship with the forests. It is all around us where we live, work, and play. Many of our rural communities depend on the forests for their very survival. So the forest is part of Dominica life. Can we therefore work to discover what it is that we can do as individuals and society to preserve our forest resources.
Can Dominica, the “Nature Island of the World”, the “Caribbean’s Garden of Eden”, “Isle of Beauty, Isle of Splendour”, the “Bread basket of the Caribbean” and the “Land of Many Rivers” exist in the absence of forests? The answer is a resounding, No! We just cannot miss it.
It is in our face all the time.
For more information, contact:
Former L. Rose Building
Windsor Park Road
Commonwealth of Dominica
Telephone: (767) 266 5856