By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Reviving the logging industry could generate numerous entrepreneurial opportunities and allow Bahamians to tap into a timber import market worth an estimated $160 million, a senior environment official believes.
Christopher Russell, the Ministry of Environment’s director of forestry, said Abaco was the most productive island in this nation in terms of pine forest resources.
“We are now encouraging Bahamians to get involved in this sector. We are undertaking an assessment in terms of identifying the resources and abilities,” he said. “In Abaco, we have a training programme ongoing where we are training Bahamians in basic forest management, and this is the first time this is happening in the Bahamas.
“We are training the park wardens of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), and Bahamians employed in government agencies, in basic forest management. A part of the training is hands-on. We have a company in Abaco, Lindar Industries, which will do some logging. The idea is that the training will be a part of that activity where there is oversight by the trainees. We’re training them on how to oversee logging activities.
“Lindar has began their logging under regulated conditions. Lindar has already started to cut the trees marked for extraction in a systematic way,” added Mr Russell.
Rob Roman, Lindar Industries’ principal, told Tribune Business in an interview last month that the company, which had experienced several setbacks, was now looking to kick-start its timbering harvesting programme on a small scale initially.
The company had been forced to make $200,000-$250,000 in repairs to its equipment due to damage by vandals. As a result, Lindar, which has a lease for 6,746 acres of pine forest on Crown Land from the Ministry of The Environment, lost a year of production. It has been granted a five-year renewable timber-harvesting licence.
Mr Russell, meanwhile, added: “We also have a pilot project running in tandem with that where we are training Bahamians in actual operations in the forestry sector. Abaco is the most productive island in terms of pine forest resources. Studies have shown that the trees grow bigger there than anywhere else. You can imagine the potential for sustainable forestry activities, and to extract the trees in a systematic way.
“To ensure that it is done properly we have prescriptions on how we go about doing that. We are starting to to do the same thing in Andros. The trainees will be exposed to not only Abaco, but we will begin to measure resources in Andros to see what we have in terms of standing volume going forward.”
Mr Russell said that based on a study he had done, the overall value of wood products imported into this nation has doubled since 1995. “I did an analysis where I compared statistics on what we imported into the country in 1995 compared to 2012, and it’s almost twice as much,” he disclosed.
“I think it was $160 million worth of woods products being brought into the country in 2102. We hope to tap into the market by producing locally-derived products like construction timber, base boards and crown moldings. Lindar is producing these materials that are high-end. The high-end products are what we are looking to, because that’s where you get the best prices.”
Mr Russell added that previous logging practices in the Bahamas were unsustainable. The Government then passed forestry legislation (the Forestry Act 2010) to provide for the sustainability of the industry.
“One of the prescriptions was that they would leave five seed trees per acre to reseed,” he explained. “It worked but it is not really considered a sustainable forestry practice in modern times. What you do when you are managing a forest is you only remove the interest from the forest, but if you remove the interest and the principal there is no guarantee the forest will grow back.
“Fortunately, the forest grew back. What we have been doing is assessing the resources to see what the standing volume is. You only remove 80 per cent, not the entire interest. That is the principal of sustainability. We know what the standing volume is for Abaco. We are now woking on what is the standing volume for Grand Bahama and Andros.”