Sustaining and harvesting Bahamian Forests
Harvesting forests in The Bahamas is feasible and an initiative that is getting the full attention of the Forestry Unit.
Christopher Russell, director of the unit which falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of the Environment and Housing, said a sustained operation is key for harvesting from forests in the country. He said that during the 1950s the Owings Illinois of The Bahamas Ltd. was licensed to harvest pine trees located on the Pine Islands – New Providence, Abaco, Andros and Grand Bahama and that the harvested pine were used in the United States for the pulp and paper industry in Jacksonville, Florida.
Russell said the present pine forest “is a forest that has come back from that activity.”
“The idea was to harvest all the pine trees and leave five trees per acre to reseed the forest so all the pine forests you see today, they are not original forests they are like secondary forest and they’ve come back from their parents.”
He said the process was not a sustained operation based on sustained yield which he said is the cornerstone for forest management. Sustained yield he explained ensures that the forest is not depleted as harvesting occurs but that regrowth is continuous.
“In order for forests to be sustained indefinitely, whenever you’re harvesting you have to find out what is the annual increment and that increment will be removed from the forest and taken in terms of harvesting. So that didn’t happen in the case of Owings.”
He said trees have a periodic annual increment whereby they begin as seedlings and grow rapidly, initially in height.
“At some point they reach their maximum height growth and then they start putting on diameter,” he said, “So every year trees grow, put on diameter, that increase in diameter is called an increment.”
He said, “So you have to find out what is your increment from trees on an annual basis and so that increment is what you would remove from the forest based on certain forest management prescriptions.”
Russell said sustained yield begins with resource assessments. He said resource assessments entail staff of the Forestry Unit establishing permanent sample points in the forests by affixing witness posts to a number of trees and using GPS coordinates for locations when data collection is needed.
“We would go to this area within a certain radius in the point center and we would flag, identify, measure everything – measure every single tree their height and everything else,” he said.
“We would also get information on biodiversity from these areas and then we can therefore quantify what we call the growing stock meaning what is actually the standing volume of trees within the entire forest area using statistical sampling techniques.”
Once this groundwork is done, Russell said the next step is to determine what trees should be removed. He said if parts of a forest have too many trees per acre standing then that forest would be classified as dense. If commercial timber production is recommended then “we have to prescribe a certain methodology or technique to coordinate this forest area and selectively take out x amount of trees.”
“Let’s say this area has 500 trees per acre it’s too many trees and we want to bring it down to say 200 trees per acre the most, based on data collection, then we have to find the right methodology to take out those competing trees and then maintain the trees that we want to stay,” he said.
“So once we have assessed the resource we know what we have standing, we know what is the annual increment from that forest. Therefore, we can decide what percentage of those trees we can take out in terms of volume,” said Russell.
He said that one third of the standing volume is usually removed but again noted that the removal of trees has to be based on data collection from the resource assessment.
At the end of the day, you take out that volume and then you wait a few more years and you see a difference in those trees,” said Russell, “At some point those old trees will be taken out again but you have to make sure the forest is regenerating again before you move the final crop.”
Russell said that whenever any company submits a proposal to remove trees the company’s working plan is reviewed to see if it meets the requirements of the Forestry Unit which is legitimized by the Forestry Act 2010.
“If it doesn’t meet our requirements then you are automatically rejected. Your business plan is tailor-made to what we feel is in the best interests of the forest resources and what the forest resources can maintain over a period of time.”