Americas
15 Sep 2015

Tentative first steps for forest restoration in the Caribbean

Sierra de Bahoruco National Park has suffered from deforestation from illegal farming (Eladio Fernandez)
Sierra de Bahoruco National Park has suffered from deforestation from illegal farming (Eladio Fernandez)
By Veronica Anadon

The rapid deforestation of a Dominican Republic National Park is finally receiving the attention it deserves from the country’s authorities and civil society, thanks to a project which is addressing the root causes of its destruction.

The forest of the Sierra de Bahoruco National Park is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, including the only known nesting site for the Endangered Black-capped Petrel and one of the most important wintering refuges for Bicknell’s Thrush (Vulnerable). It is also home to an enormous number of Caribbean endemic species, including La Selle Thrush, Hispaniolan Crossbill, Hispaniolan Amazon and Hispaniolan Parakeet as well as the shrew-like Hispaniolan Solenodon. Yet despite its protected status, the forest has suffered huge forest clearance from illegal farming.

In just 15 years, nearly a third of the forest on the southern side of the Park has been converted to agriculture. Land has been appropriated to put in place sharecropping systems and large avocado plantations exploiting cheap labour, using large quantities of agrochemicals, or clear felling for charcoal.

Hispaniolan Amazon is being affected <br> by deforestation at this IBA (Eladio Fernandez)All this began to change when the Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation came in to support Grupo Jaragua, (BirdLife in the Dominican Republic). The Foundation made timely land purchases to link Bahoruco with neighbouring Jaragua National Park, has directed public opinion and outrage at this situation and is supporting a strategic planning planning process to save Bahoruco alongside the Ministry of the Environment and other key stakeholders, including the farmers.

To get to this point, Grupo Jaragua conducted surveys to establish and map the most critical areas for wildlife, existing farms, and understand the causes of deforestation. It raised awareness of the Park’s importance and its vulnerability, and, working with a national newspaper, it exposed the situation.

Changing attitudes and winning support from local communities is fundamental to the Park’s long-term future. The project targeted them with TESSA – BirdLife’s Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment. Communities were given a chance to air their views and concerns, as well as being shown how much they depended on the forest. They were taught about the forest’s role in preventing soil erosion, helping water retention, and preventing floods. And four communities were given support in establishing biodiversity-friendly farming and forestry enterprises, such as growing wild oregano and producing local honey.

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These are the tentative first steps in the difficult task of halting deforestation and restoring these damaged forests.