DEMONSTRATORS who are cutting down trees to enhance protests against bad roads and other social ills are contributing to environmental challenges that could, in the long run, have negative effects on Jamaicans' quality of life.
The caution was issued by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which described the felling of trees as "hurtful" and pointed out "the great damage" that the practice is causing to the country's landscape and environment.
"The removal of trees in both rural and urban settings has negative implications for biodiversity and the capacity of the environment to provide a number of ecological services on which humans rely and which directly affect quality of life," NEPA said in a news release, pointing out that it has taken note of "the continuing and widespread practice [of felling trees] adopted by community groups and other members of the general public".
Head of the agency's Ecosystems Management Branch, Monique Curtis explained: "Trees are integral to our economic, social and cultural way of life. From an environmental perspective, sustained tree loss can lead to deteriorating soil stability, poor drainage, and lowered air and water quality. This loss of tree cover is especially worrying as there is a likelihood that the trees being felled may be native, endemic, rare or threatened species."
Pointing to the importance of tree cover, NEPA said that large, mature trees are crucial in the provision of shade, water retention, water evaporation and transpiration as well as carbon sequestration — which has a cooling effect — thus reducing the impact of the urban heat island effect.
"Additionally, tree roots reduce soil erosion and increase water percolation and filtration, improving water quality and reducing risk of flooding and slippage or slope failure," NEPA stated.
"This is of particular importance as more frequent and intense rainfall/weather events are being experienced as a result of climate change," the agency said, adding that the preservation and protection of tree cover is a part of its mandate to manage and protect Jamaica's natural and built landscape.
NEPA appealed to the island's political parties, community leaders, members of citizens' associations, non-government organisations, the Church, school principals, teachers, and individuals, to discourage the practice of removal of trees and other flora as such removal presents "a major challenge to protecting Jamaica's environment".
The agency said it supports the National Tree Planting Initiative, led by the Forestry Department, which aims to plant three million trees in three years, and encouraged all Jamaicans to join in the drive to increase the island's forest cover.
Highlighting the popular Chinese saying, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now," NEPA said it was "appealing to the good sense of all persons to support the preservation of our trees and natural flora".