Environment

A ribbon of trees

JCDT starts planting national park boundaries

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

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Nine months after Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT) received an inaugural grant of US$30,000 from Jamaica Conservation Partners (JCP) to mark the boundaries of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and World Heritage Site, it has planted the first set of trees.

Over 650 of Jamaica's national tree — the Blue Mahoe — have been rooted some 5,000 feet above sea level in Penlyne Castle, St Thomas, where rugged terrain featuring berries and wild fruit gives way to clear vistas at the work site. There, three-row grids four metres apart laid the blueprint for a ribbon of over 600 metres.

The boundary project was born after Blue and John Crow Mountains won United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage site inscription, a process which revealed that while the park qualified based on heritage, its poor delineation was cause for concern.

“One of the concerns that we, and UNESCO had, is that the boundary was not clearly marked. That means the farmers who occupy the land next to us do not know clearly where the boundaries are. We also want our five rangers, who are patrolling over 100,000 acres, to clearly know where to go,” said Dr Susan Otuokon, executive director of the JCDT and manager of the national park.

“Within the three-year time frame, three major areas will be identified and boundaries located on the ground. It is one thing to know the boundary on the map, it is quite different in the field,” she explained.

That's also part of the reason they choose the Blue Mahoe.

In addition to growing quickly and fairly well at high elevations, its leaves are broad with a distinctive shape and its blooms vibrant and long-lasting.

“That makes it a perfect ribbon boundary that can be seen from a distance,” the JCDT said.

The Blue Mahoe ribbon boundary will also be established in the Irish Town/Newcastle/Holywell area, and the Nanny Town/John's Hall area.

While the trees grow, markers will be placed along the boundary, accompanied by larger signs at key vantage points so that community members and visitors can clearly identify the park boundary at a distance.

“This combination project is important as we want the people who are farming to not overstep the boundary and those who are out here to enjoy the national park to know exactly where it is. Some of these areas have been badly deforested due to encroachment and hurricane damage, and so the planting will also help in terms of reforesting and improving the environs in this area,” Dr Otuokon said.

“In Jamaica, we have an issue with land ownership. Many times the land owners use oral history to mark land borders. You would often hear: 'My grandfather says the land finishes at a particular tree'. We also have farmers who will unwittingly establish farms on national park lands. This ribbon of Blue Mahoes will definitively mark where the national park boundaries begin,” she continued.

Anna Ward, project officer of the CB Facey Foundation, under which JCP is administered, was part of the team that made the 1,000 ft trek up Monkey Hill to plant 50 of the trees back in June.

“It is quite heartening to be a part of marking the national park's borders,” she said then. “The partners' contribution over the next three years is helping the JCDT preserve and protect the lush forests and rich bio-diverse areas within the Blue and John Crow Mountains through this boundary project.”

The JCDT was among four environmental NGOs to receive the JCP grant in September 2017. The others are Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and White River Fish Sanctuary which will receive US$60,000 and US$20,000 respectively, also over a three-year period. JET will use the donation to pay for core administrative and indirect costs while supporting its law and advocacy programme. The White River group, meanwhile, will provide salaries for wardens tasked with patrolling a 370-plus acre Special Fishery Conservation Area in a community-led project with local fishermen.

The trees for the boundary were provided by the Forestry Department.

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