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Deforestation and reforestation

Around 8,000 years ago, the world had a forested area of about 6 billion hectares. Today, the world's forests cover about 4 billion hectares, equivalent to 30% of its surface. No more than half of this area is covered by mature, untouched forests, formerly known as primary forests. Meanwhile, two thirds of the 4 billion hectares of forests are now concentrated in only 10 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Indonesia, Peru, Russia, and the United States of America. Three of these countries -Russia, Canada and Brazil- are home to 70% of the current area of mature, untouched forests.

In the XXI century, the world's forests are still at risk and continue to be destroyed. Illegal logging and burning of trees on a large scale is an everyday occurrence and is the number one cause for the disappearance of our forests. In fact, deforestation (clear-cutting of forests) and degradation (reduction of forest quality) result in an annual loss of about 15 million hectares of forests worldwide: this represents almost 0.5% of the forest covering the Earth. Such deforestation acceleration is equivalent to the annual disappearance of an area larger than England, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined. In simpler terms, it is estimated that every two seconds, the equivalent to the surface of a football field is destroyed, a very alarming rate of deforestation.

Tropical forests are among the most threatened in the world. The annual disappearance of millions of hectares of forests in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia continues to be a harsh reality. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Latin American and the Caribbean regions still have abundant forest resources: about 47% of their land is covered by them. This represents 22% of the global forested area estimated in 2005. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the annual variation rate in forested area from 2000 to 2005 was -0.51%, while in the nineties it was -0.46%. From 1990 to 2005, Latin America and the Caribbean lost about 64 million hectares of forested area. During this period, the forested area declined from 51% to 47% of the total land area in this region. However, forested area increased by 11% in the Caribbean, while it decreased by 19% in Central America and 7% in South America. In the insular Caribbean, only Cuba's forested area increased between 2000 and 2005.

Forest cover in the Dominican Republic
Principal causes of deforestation
Management of forest resources in the Dominican Republic
Reforestation Programs

Forest cover in the Dominican Republic

It is estimated that the forest cover in the Dominican Republic was about 40,000 km2 at the start of the twentieth century. This accounted for approximately 83% of the total land area of the country (48,380 km2). In the second, third and fourth decades of the past century, the country lost 10 to 15% of this wooded area, preserving only about 35,000 km2. In the postwar era, deforestation accelerated, causing a loss of 75 to 85% of the coverage it had at the start of the twentieth century. The highest rate of destruction occurred in the decades of the sixties, seventies, and the eighties. At the end of the latter decade there were only about 5,000 km2 of forest cover remaining in the Dominican Republic. Then, in the nineties, this destructive process began to reverse and the forest cover began to gradually recover. Finally, the Forestry Law (203), which was established in the late sixties, began to bear fruit. This law was intended to stop the logging of the Dominican forest and to promote the recovery of degraded lands. In fact, through reforestation programs, the country’s forested area was increased to around 13,000 km2 in 1998, more than double what it was in the mid-eighties, but still no more than a fraction (30%) of what it was 100 years ago. After that period, the forested area of the Dominican Republic stabilized for a few years, showing a balance between deforestation and reforestation. In fact, according to the Evaluation of World Forest Resources, published by FAO in 2005, the Dominican forest cover was about 13,760 km2, which is about 28.5% of the total land area of the country. The annual variation rate in forest area in the country showed a reduction of forested surface of between 0 to 0.5% per year in the period between 2000 and 2005.

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Principal causes of deforestation

The main cause of deforestation in Latin America and the Caribbean is the conversion of forests into extensive agricultural and farming land. Other factors that influence the loss of forests in the western hemisphere are forest fires; industrial logging for commercial purposes; the production of charcoal and firewood; mining, including oil and gas; the construction of dams and mega infrastructures (e.g. roads); urbanization; coastal development; and, in areas originally covered by mangrove forests, shrimp farms.

In the Caribbean, the loss of forest caused by natural disasters which generate severe damage to trees, soil erosion, landslides, and floods is very frequent. Every two years, hurricanes and tropical storms ravage islands such as Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, destroying their natural forests and forest plantations. Recently, there has been an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes and storms in the Caribbean region, possibly caused by human-related global warming.

Today we know that deforestation increases the temperature on the face of the Earth, because as trees are cut down, carbon stored in their trunks and branches is released into the atmosphere. It is estimated that a tree’s composition is 50% carbon, and the amount of carbon stored in the global forest biomass is about 283 gigatons (Gt), although this figure decreased globally by 1.1 Gt per year between 1990 and 2005. For the Dominican Republic, FAO estimates that there are 60 tons of biomass carbon per hectare, which means a total of 82 million tons of carbon for the country. This amount of forest carbon is distributed in a total of 64 million cubic meters of Dominican forest.

At the same time, it is estimated that deforestation worldwide is responsible for issuing between 25 and 30% of the so-called greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere, which means about 1,600 million tons of gas a year. In this sense, indiscriminate felling and burning contributes significantly to climate change, causing the surface of our planet to warm up with all the devastating consequences that entails.

Deforestation and forest degradation have adverse effects on the diversity and the ecology of forests, threatening their multiple functions, including conservation of biodiversity, soil and water resources and the supply of timber and other non-forest products, as well as the areas of recreation and carbon sinks they provide. In short, when they lose their forest cover, lands are restricted in their ability to help maintain the ecological balance of the planet, which negatively affects the welfare of human beings who depend on the environmental services offered by valuable ecosystems such as tropical and temperate forests.

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Management of forest resources in the Dominican Republic

As far as forest production and consumption goes, in 2004 the Dominican Republic exported a total of 556,000m3 of firewood, while it imported 267,000m3 of lumber, 31,000m3 of wood based panels, and 182,000 tons of paper and cardboard. Simultaneously, it produced 130,000 tons of paper and cardboard, with a total consumption of 3122,000 tons nationwide.

Fortunately, the rate of net Dominican mature forest loss, originally caused by the demand for forest products, is decreasing significantly thanks to the planting of forest trees and the restoration of forests through natural regeneration. The current use and modern management of forests show that there are places that experience progress and are maintaining or recovering their forest cover, while helping to reduce poverty and ensure environmental sustainability in the country.

In the last hundred years, the Dominican Republic has made great strides in regard to its forest legislation. The first Forestry Law (Law 4794) came about in 1907 and confirmed the creation of the forest rangers. Since then, many executive rules, laws and regulations have been issued, increasingly focused on sustainable forest management and conservation of forest resources. In 1999, Law 118 was established, whereby the country's Forestry Department became part of the structure of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARENA for its acronym in Spanish). Since the start of this century, the forestry legislation that serves as institutional and legal framework for the modern integrated forest management of Dominican forests is based on four legal standards: a) Law 5856 on Forest Conservation and Fruit Trees; b) Law 705 on Control of Tree Felling and Industrial Operations; c) Law 290 on Forestry Incentives; and d) Resolution 258 approving the National Forest Plan.

At present, SEMARENA’s Secretariat of Forest Resources operates nationally as the governmental entity responsible for promoting and ensuring reforestation and sustainable management of forest resources, in compliance with the nation’s forestry policy and the standards governing its use. At the same time, it is responsible for providing the latest information on forest issues, obtained from research that takes place in the country and in parts of other countries, which can be applied in the Dominican Republic.

Since the late nineties, the development of new bills that aim to modernize the forest sector, based on fresh concepts of a sustainable economic development which is socially equalitarian and environmentally harmonious, has regained importance. In 2003, for example, the draft of a Forestry Promotion Law was submitted to Congress. Five years later, a still more elaborate blueprint was prepared, which established a comprehensive legal framework that would allow the country to be self-sufficient in wood production within 10 years. This bill covers many forest issues of national interest, including sustainable forest production and financing for environmental services. The preliminary draft was discussed in 2007 through the Forests Roundtable (MDB) and it is currently in the Forestry Chamber where it is being modified to incorporate new suggestions to the project, before it is sent to Congress for its consideration and decision. The blueprint proposes the creation of a fund for forest development and the establishment of a decentralized institute for the promotion of production of forest goods and services for commercial purposes. With these efforts, the Dominican Republic is taking the lead on comprehensive forest management in the insular Caribbean.

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Reforestation Programs

In the last decade, the Dominican Republic has made many efforts to repopulate the country with forests and forest plantations through its reforestation programs. An important milestone in modern history is the 1994 publication of the Manual for Reforestation in the Dominican Republic (Manual para la reforestación en la República Dominicana), written by Andrea Brechelt and published by the Agriculture and Environment Foundation. More recently, SEMARENA declared October as reforestation month. As part of this effort, it was proposed that during the month reforestation would take place, especially in farms that were deforested in the past, as well as the banks of the rivers that flow through them. In addition, the Dominican Republic holds National Reforestation conferences, which take place on the last Saturday of each month throughout the Dominican territory, during which thousands of trees of different species are planted.

Another specific effort is the recovery of the Cachon de la Rubia, in East Santo Domingo, where the "Women’s Forest" was created. A group of women planted a large number of trees with feminine names such as mahogany, penda, ceiba, anacahuita, cana palm, among others. Other reforestation initiatives covering an area of over 100 km2, are taking place on the way to Constanza, Jarabacoa, las Matas de Farfán, Maimon, Polo, Salcedo, San José de Ocoa, San Juan, Santiago, and Villa Altagracia. At the same time, it is estimated that some of the country's watersheds, covering an area of approximately 6,000 hectares, are in critical condition and require reforestation projects. This indicates that much remains to be done in a country that already is, for the most part, forest-oriented, in order to recover a functional landscape where forests are managed in a sustainable manner, contributing to the conservation of biodiversity, and providing valuable ecological goods and services upon which the Dominican people can depend for their welfare, today and in the future.

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