By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Bsuiness Reporter
The creation of a national forestry estate would mark a “significant and “unprecedented” move for the Bahamias in the management and protection of its natural resources, a top official said yesterday.
During his 2014-2015 Budget contribution last week, Prime Minister Perry Christie said the Government had made amendments to the Forestry Act and that a national forestry estate would be established this year.
“The establishment of the national forest estate this year will not only allow us to manage and sustainably use our forests, but also provide new potential revenue sources from resin extraction, timber harvesting, the creation of a hunting industry and expansion of our eco-touristic product,” said Mrc Christie.
Forestry director Christopher Russell said Part III of the Forestry Act addresses forestry reserves, protected forests and conservation forests.
“These are the three classifications of forest types that the national forest estate will comprise of. In order to make these declarations we have to identify areas that meet the criteria for classification,” Mr Russell said.
“We are in the process of identifying appropriate areas of forests, whether they be pine forest, mangrove ecosystems or board leaf coppice areas. We are looking at the northern pine islands initially because they are the islands with the greatest potential to establish the national forest estate.
“We are identifying areas that meet the criteria to be declared, and once we have identified the areas the Government would have to agree via Cabinet for these areas to be declared as reserves under the estate. Then it will have to come to Parliament to be ratified by resolution. These areas will become permanent under forestry as a national estate.”
Mr Russell added: “There are two classifications where the estate will be permanent. Only Parliament can change the status, and those two would be the forestry reserve and the conservation forest classification. They can only be changed by Parliament. Each area identified as a reserve, protected forest, or a conservation forest will have to have a management plan as to how best we can manage these areas based on their attributes.”
Mr Russell said a forest reserve is an area with potential for the sustainable yield of timber, while the conservation forest would be declared as such based on its significant wildlife habitat, wetland, woodland or area of natural or scientific interest.
“The protected forest will be managed for forestry in the same way you would manage your forest reserves but, let’s say you need land for industrial or residential expansion,” Mr Russell explained.
“These lands can be taken away from the forest estate and used for alternative purposes, but the caveat is that if you want to remove the forest from this classification, the alternative land use must yield greater returns than it would have been under forestry.”
He added: “This is unprecedented. It’s the first time, and is very significant, not only from a national perspective but also an international point of view, because we have signed on to a lot of conventions - bio-diversity, climate change etc - and we are mandated to do certain things that we have been slow in doing.
“This provision in terms of forestry is one aspect in terms of what we should be doing as a country in meeting obligations to protecting and pressing our natural resource,s and managing them via legislation in a sustainable manner.”