Environment

Say 'forest', not 'bush'!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014    

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IF you're like the average Jamaican, you use the word 'bush' to denote any area of wild or un-manicured greenery.

You might also use it to refer to farmlands or to rural Jamaica.

Any of these would, however, earn you the ire of the Forestry Department which manages approximately 110,000 hectares of land on behalf of the Government of Jamaica, 30 per cent of the island's total forest cover.

A forest, according to CEO of the department and conservator of forests Marilyn Headley, is any area with at least 10 per cent of crown cover.

That cover, she explained, might be thick, as in the case of virgin or closed broad-leaf forests like the Cockpit Country, or much thinner as in the case of dry limestone forests such as Hellshire Hills. But all types are important, she stressed.

"It doesn't matter how it looks. So when you go to Hellshire, don't cut down anything.

"What we in Jamaica classify as 'bush' is some forest of some sort. So, from 2011, we have outlawed the word 'bush'. Everybody in the Ministry (of Land, Water, Environment and Climate Change) and around us know... So nobody going to the bush, come from bush, or cutting down down any bush.

"'Bush' has no value, 'bush' is not a place, 'bush' is just something dispensable," Headley told the Jamaica Observer a week ago, indicating that that was the perception fuelling deforestation, to which the country loses about 350 hectares each year.

Changing those perceptions is behind the agency's outreach programmes, two of which are a week-long camp in Mount Airy for children participating the Multi-care summer programme, and an annual Forest Trek through the Blue Mountains.

On the occasion of International Day of Forests last Friday, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon described forests as the lungs of the planet.

"They cover one-third of all land area and are home to 80 per cent of all terrestrial biodiversity. They are crucial for addressing a multitude of sustainable development imperatives, from poverty eradication to food security, from mitigating and adapting to climate change to reducing disaster risk.

"It is estimated that 1.6 billion people depend on forests for food, fuel, shelter and income. The World Health Organisation estimates that between 65 and 80 per cent of people rely on medicine derived from forests as their primary form of health care.

"Not only do forests provide essential economic safety nets for a significant number of the round wood production, wood processing and the pulp and paper industries account for nearly one per cent of global Gross Domestic Product. Non-monetary benefits such as water, energy, shelter and medicine are estimated to be two to three times as great. Forested catchments supply three-quarters of freshwater, which is essential for agriculture, industry, energy supply and domestic use."

Ban's statement was read at the second annual environmental expo staged by the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change at Devon House by Food and Agriculture Organisation representative Dr Jerome Thomas.

The expo was a celebration of International Day of Forests, observed March 21; World Water Day, observed March 22; and World Meteorological Day, observed March 23.

- Kimone Thompson

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