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Forestry hopes dashed

Forestry hopes dashed
Left to Right: Feeding platforms being installed in the forest for birds & Feeding platform installed in the forest for birds

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Thursday’s start to the wet season was the direct opposite of what officials at the Forestry Division within the Ministry of Agriculture had been hoping for.

The heavy rains resulted in damage to property, and flooding in several communities across the state, adding to the damage already caused by the erupting Soufriere volcano.

Speaking on Wednesday with SEARCHLIGHT, Director of Forestry Fitzgerald Providence, said his department was hoping for gentle showers at the start of the wet season to avert further disaster through flooding and soil erosion.

“We’re not hoping for major heavy rainfall so soon, because there is a lot of deforestation in terms of defoliation of the plants, breaking of branches, a lot of areas are exposed,” Providence said then.

He explained that the forest ecosystem provides many services “and one of that is protecting our soil and watersheds, and if the forest cover is not there, we are concerned that there would be erosion and a similar thing that happened in the 2011 floods or the 2013 floods.”

Notwithstanding the forecasts for a vey active 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, Providence said the Forestry Division is hoping that there will be no major hurricanes or rainstorms that would negatively impact the already heavily exposed terrain, especially in the upper elevations left bare as a result of the volcanic eruption.

He shared that the Division had begun a preliminary assessment of the forest to determine the extent of the damage done by the eruption, and how best to respond. One major concern is the ash fall that has also presented problems for the animal and bird life in the forest-its fauna.

The forestry director said they have been able to determine that the “top one-third of forest along the slopes of Soufriere- referred to as the elfin woodland… has been denuded of vegetation” and 75% forest cover along the slopes.

And evidence has also shown that there is complete destruction in the forested south western side of the volcano from pyroclastic flows, in the laraki valley and wallibou where “ just sticks remain”. But there is a sliver of good news, in that, there is still some green in areas of Fancy and the falls of Beliene that were protected by ridges.

Providence is however confident that the forest, which is critical not only for water generation but also as a habitat to a wide range of fauna, including endemic species, will naturally regenerate itself over time.

“There will be some foliage coming in that would hold the soil, so there won’t be the massive erosion or mass movement of both ash and soil during any rain storm,” he noted, but is also hoping they will be able to obtain the resources as it may become necessary to move into some areas “to clear debris or fallen trees out of main waterways in case there is any flood”.

The forestry assessment is led by a combined team of the wildlife unit and law enforcement and compliance unit working along with the forest rangers, and began about two weeks ago.

In addition to assessing damage to the forest, the team is also installing feeding platforms (raised tables placed in trees) on which food and water are provided for forest birds which include the whistling warbler and the St Vincent parrot, both endemic to SVG.

Though there has been the death of at least one parrot which showed signs of starvation and dehydration, it appears that the national bird has been weathering the eruption.

“As we go into the forest we are hearing the birds, which is evidence that they have survived,” Providence said.

The St Vincent parrot- the Amazonia Guildingi) goes to the Soufriere Mountain to feed, having relocated to nest in other forested areas following the 1979 eruption.

Already, the Forestry Division has issued an appeal to its external partners to assist in setting up rehabilitation centers close to forested areas to give the birds a better chance of survival.

There are an estimated 800 parrots currently in the wild.

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