What it would take to create national forest estates
It’s often hard to start from scratch.
Laying the foundation is sometimes wearisome and not without setbacks – but the benefits of doing it right the first time outweighs the hassle of unnecessary problems in the future. Just ask Christopher Russell, a 34 year veteran in forestry and current Forestry Unit Director. He will tell you that he’s up to the challenge of establishing national forest estates in The Bahamas.
With the latest forestry legislation, Russell and his team are meticulously going step-by- step through each procedural forest prescription, all determined to properly develop the forest resources in The Bahamas with sustained yield being the cornerstone upon which they manage.
Russell said there are four steps – identification, declaration, presentation and having the lands vested.
“What we have to do to achieve managing our forests based on sustained yield concepts, is to first identify appropriate areas in the country and declare them national forests,” he said.
The identification process he said would involve ground proofing exercises to identify encroachments on forest areas to prevent land conflict issues from arising once national forest estates are established.
“We are going about that process now of identifying areas of forests in the country initially on the Pine Islands [Abaco, Andros, Grand Bahama and New Providence] on crown land that meet certain criteria in terms of them being best suited for forestry development, including commercial and recreational activities and for conservation purposes.”
Once the areas of forests are identified they next have to be declared and presented by law as national forests.
According to Russell the Forestry Unit has produced the maps to show where the proposed boundaries should be for the national forests. He compared the legal process of getting the areas legally defined to that of land purchases.
“When you’re purchasing a piece of land and you have to have a conveyance document showing the descriptions of boundaries, the same must apply here and has to be verified by the Lands and Surveys Department, as they’re the ones who are supposed to be describing these boundaries on our behalf” he said.
Following these steps Mr. Russell said the Minister responsible for crown lands will in turn have the lands vested through a resolution of Parliament, after which “we have control to go ahead and carry out our various activities on these lands”.
“So there’s a process to get us to the point where we have these national forests declared and then they will be gazetted and everybody will know where these areas are,” he said.
Russell said a public awareness campaign will occur next as the campaign will be instrumental in providing residents and members of the public with vital information on lands that are identified as National Forest Estates and the laws that pertain to such areas.
The director said once the areas are identified, declared and presented by law as national forests and public awareness of these areas have taken place, then management plans for the areas will be developed.
He said the foundation for Management Plans was laid in 1986 during an initial attempt to declare national forest estates and get the Forestry Act enacted.
“It didn’t happen then but we did a management plan so that’s our foundation document because it does describe how to manage our forests,” said Russell.
He said each area has unique attributes and the management plan will provide directives on how to best manage the areas.
“In terms of areas that have certain commercial production forestry, certain areas that we ought to conserve for preservation, wetland areas that have to be protected as well, the mangrove systems we identify, certain areas of mangrove systems such as broadleaf forests we all have to look at.
“Once we know what we have on the ground we can prepare appropriate plans and strategies to manage these forests areas, build capacity within the country and be a model for the rest of the Caribbean,” said Russell.
He said there has to be a buy-in of all the relevant stakeholders acknowledging that he and his team have already met with these stakeholders.
Russell said the government is committed to establishing national forest estates and completing this exercise, which was already presented to the United Nations.
“We are mandated by law to do it and we have obligations and conventions to do this and also with the Paris Agreement which we recently signed with respect to climate change, forestry is one of our major mitigation efforts.”