The Forest Factor: Millions of Trees Planted, Too Many Lost

You may have missed this (as I almost did in the horrendous month of January) – but the Forestry Department has been busy. You may recall that last October Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a “Three Million Trees in Three Years” project.

The numbers are great, but the devil is in the details. Does the Forestry Department have enough seedlings? I am hoping that, since were are now going through a dry spell, that they are being duly maintained, watered and cared for – if already planted. You can’t just plant a young tree “and done.” I would love to know where Wisynco, GraceKennedy et al are planting their trees, for example. However, I am all for timber trees being planted and “urban spaces” to be greened (Where? I will be keeping an eagle eye out to see young trees planted). The treeless dustbowl that is Portmore, St. Catherine badly needs some greening!

Let’s be sure each tree is “the right tree in the right place.” I am not sure who said this, but it is very important.

Hopefully the entire project will get a significant boost from a major programme funded by the European Union, under which the Forestry Department received J$128 million recently for technical assistance towards creating a business model for the Department. I am glad to see that earning an income from our forests (including eco-tourism) will be included in the plan.

I am hoping also that the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica will issue a new Call for Proposals for its Forest Conservation Fund shortly. Seven priority sites have been selected for funding. I am waiting for news on this one.

Orchids bloom high up on one of my favorite trees in Portland. (My photo)

Here is the Forestry Department’s announcement in January:

Thousands of Trees Distributed Under 3 Million Trees Planting Initiative

Over 85,000 seedlings have been distributed and 57 hectares planted in forest estates across the island under the Government of Jamaica’s ‘Three Million Trees in Three Years’ National Tree Planting Programme since its launch on October 4, 2019.

The Programme, which was launched by the Most Honourable Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, is aimed at supporting national reforestation efforts through the planting of three million trees island wide over three years as well as the engagement of environmentally focused Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) interns. Miss Rainee Oliphant, Acting CEO and Conservator of Forests at the Forestry Department describes the level of interest in the programme to date as significant. “There is still ample opportunity for each and every Jamaican to get involved in the initiative as we are targeting engagement from the individual level to medium and large-scale planting supported by entities in the public, private and non-governmental sectors.”

“Under the initiative, private and public sector entities have engaged in a positive way with the Agency to contribute in a meaningful way to this programme. GraceKennedy Limited has pledged to plant 2,000 trees, Wisynco Group Limited 12,000 and Noranda Bauxite has committed to plant 100,000 trees initially with plans to increase to 300,000. The Jamaica 4-H Clubs has also made a pledge and other companies are currently discussing what their roles will be in the initiative,” she said.

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) has also announced that it will be facilitating the planting of 500,000 trees over two years in support of the initiative. “It is a very exciting time not just for the Forestry Department, but Jamaica as a whole,” Miss Oliphant added.

One of my favorite trees in Portland. (My photo)

Several preparatory activities have commenced to meet the demands of the initiative one of which is the production of seedlings required to meet the three million tree target.

The Agency has increased the number of staff with responsibility for seed collection and field officers are being trained to assist with this component. The seeds collected will be used to germinate seedlings for planting under the programme. The staff capacity within the Agency’s nurseries has also been increased and additional equipment is being utilized in the production process to ensure that adequate seedlings are available to support the initiative. “The Agency is also in dialogue with private nurseries with a view of working with them to assist with the production of seedlings,” Miss Oliphant added.

The initiative, which is being led by the Forestry Department, will see the planting of two million timber/forest seedlings on approximately 3000 hectares of land while the remaining one million timber and ornamental seedlings will be distributed to the public and planted in urban spaces including roadways, parks and along major thoroughfares in towns across the island.

Under the programme, approximately 1,000 HOPE interns will be trained and certified in basic core elements of forest management which includes seedling production, tree establishment & maintenance and forest law. In addition to the HOPE interns that will benefit under the project, employment opportunities will be provided for persons from communities adjacent to areas to be planted. 

Mara tree logged by wood pirates in Amboro National Park, Bolivia. According to Mongabay, Mara (Swietenia macrophylla), also known as big-leaf mahogany, is a threatened tree species found in western South America. Growing up to 50 meters (165 feet) tall, mara trees can live for more than a century. Its wood is sought-after for the production of high-end furniture and can sell for high prices at the country’s black markets. ARMED gangs of loggers reportedly go into protected areas and threaten park rangers. (Photo: Roman Vitron).

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the globe, countries are trying to outdo themselves to make up for the devastation of our tropical rainforests (think: not only the Amazon but also the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and elsewhere in Africa); and the even speedier destruction of our mangrove forests (think: right across the Caribbean, the Sundarbans of Bangladesh and here, there, everywhere). According to the excellent Mongabay website, which has a major focus on forests, “pirates” in the Bolivian rainforest are busy picking out and felling the rarest and most valuable species, such as the threatened Mara (big-leaf mahogany). Going into forests and picking out the “best” trees is a common practice of criminals in Jamaica, too. Yes, they are criminals. In Bolivia, deforested areas are often turned into coca plantations, from which cocaine is made. Organized crime threatens forests, besides the various impacts of climate change and sheer carelessness on humans’ part.

Sleeves rolled up neatly, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, plants a tree in Addis Ababa. Tree-planting sessions make great photo opportunities for politicians the world over… (Photo: Aron Simeneh)

Ethiopia last year claimed to have planted 350 million trees in one day; since its forest coverage is only around four percent, it has plenty of space for the four billion it is aiming for. Others are coming up with some big numbers. Will they make a difference? Is it just too little, too late?

I will end with one inspiring example of the resilience of Nature, if given the chance. An ancient tree on the island of Vieques, off Puerto Rico, “La Ceiba,” which has endured two major hurricanes in 2017 (the “double whammy” of Irma and Maria), is blooming again. Please read the beautiful story of La Ceiba here.

Yes, I am an unabashed tree hugger. If anything deserves a hug, trees do.

The Vieques ceiba trees’ roots can hold water, which the local wild horses sometimes use as a trough. (Photo: Jay Sturner from USA/Wikimedia Commons)





4 thoughts on “The Forest Factor: Millions of Trees Planted, Too Many Lost

  1. Beautiful post – regarding one’s love for the trees – and one’s heartache when seeing the pirated one – the carcass and death of the tree. I listened to an interview last week about ‘nature spirits’ and it said that sometimes the spirit of the tree remains behind – like someone still feeling an amputated arm yet it’s no longer there.. It was also said that soemtimes the spirit goes on with the lumber, and woe be unto the person who takes that lumber home – and the home starts undergoing problems b/c the spirit is lost… I wish more people would consider the spirit of the plant/tree – perhaps they’d think twice about taking the life of the tree…

    I’m at a restaurant and will read this again when home. Don’t ever stop what you’re doing – and thank you!


    1. That is an amazing story about the tree spirits. I don’t think people see trees as even alive in any real sense of the word. And yet they have their own ways of breathing, growing, drinking… I learned this idea when I was in Japan from Shinto beliefs (they wrap cloths around and revere their “special” trees)… I hope that this “millions” or “billions” of trees to be planted is not just to assuage our guilty conscience. Thank you for your really kind words and encouragement, as always!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good questions Emma – I’ve been asking them myself:-
    1. Are there enough seedlings and of the right type ? The experience of the JCDT working in the Blue and John Crow Mountains is that even with our own nurseries we are not able to produce the amount and type of seedlings for our forest restoration programme. We avoid planting timber trees within the Blue & John Crow Mountains National Park (and Forest Reserve) – since it is illegal to cut them down – it seems it would be tempting people to plant those species – but generally that is mostly what is available from the Forestry Dept. at the moment. We produce a variety of species of native, forest tree seedlings at our nurseries for our projects, but are generally dependent on collecting the wildings from the forest because we don’t have the knowledge required to propagate from seeds. This requires research and we were hoping it would happen but as it hasn’t yet, we have started to seek the funds to get it done.
    2. Will the trees planted survive and grow to maturity ? Again, the experience of the JCDT (and we have observed it with the projects of other entities) is that survival rates are fairly good (maybe as much as 60%) IF you maintain the seedlings including keeping the weeds down until the seedlings are tall enough to fend for themselves (about 3 years if you have planted slow-growing native trees). However, if there is drought and worse yet fire (often spreading from slash-and-burn activities or wild-hog hunters or arsonists and made to spread faster and further by bamboo and Pine trees) the survival can easily drop to less than 10%.
    We do need to grow trees (ideally with best practices re: species) but we also need to stop cutting and burning them down.


    1. Thank you for this sobering response, Susan! It makes sense to avoid the timber trees (such as those being pirated in the national park in Bolivia that I referred to in the article). Apart from the great need for research, could you bring in an expert for six months or so who could train people in propagating seeds? Is there no research going on at any of our local institutions that you could tap into? I feel a little cynical about the various tree-planting photo ops you see, wondering if that fragile seedling will indeed make it to maturity. It’s not something you just pop into the ground and walk away. It’s the same story (your last sentence) – we cause so much destruction, and then try to make it better afterwards. Don’t “mash things up” in the first place” is the best idea!


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