Deforestation is the clearance of naturally occurring forests by the processes of humans'
logging and/or burning of trees in a forested area.
Deforestation occurs because of many reasons: trees or derived charcoal are used as or
sold for fuel or a commodity to be used by humans, while cleared land is used by humans
as pasture for livestock, plantations of commodities, and settlements.
Why Trees Matter
To understand why deforestation is such a pressing and urgent issue, forests must first be
given credit for what they bring to global ecosystems and the quality of life that all
species maintain. Tropical Rainforests presently give a place to call home for 50% - 90%
of all organisms, 90% of our relatives, the primates, and 50 million creatures that can live
no place but the rich rainforests (World Rainforest Movement 16). Not only are other
species at risk, but the human race also benefits from what the trees give. From
something as minor as the spices that indulge food to life giving medicines, the
rainforests amplify and save lives. According to the World Rainforest Movement, 25% of
medicines come from the forests (28). This is a number that does not do justice to all the
cures that have yet to be discovered or that have been destroyed. The forests give life, not
only to other species, but they help to prolong the human race.
The forests have global implications not just on life but on the quality of it. Trees
improve the quality of the air that species breath by trapping carbon and other particles
produced by pollution. Trees determine rainfall and replenish the atmosphere. As more
water gets put back in the atmosphere, clouds form and provide another way to block out
the sun’s heat. Trees are what cool and regulates the earth’s climate in conjunction with
other such valuable services as preventing erosion, landslides, and making the most
infertile soil rich with life. Mother earth has given much responsibility to trees.
Jamaica: Deforestation linked to mining, agriculture and tourism
Jamaica, the third largest island in the Caribbean, is dominated by an extensive cordillera.
The island was once almost entirely covered by forest, of which there are four main types
whose distribution is determined by the rainfall pattern: dry limestone forest on southern
lowlands and hills; intermediate limestone forest in the central uplands, wet and very wet
limestone forest in the Cockpit Country and John Crow Mountains, and rainforest
(lowlands and mountain).
At present, Jamaica’s lowlands have been mostly cleared for agriculture, and overall
more than 75% of the original forest has been lost. Remaining forest is largely secondary
in nature and only the mountain forest in the most remote, inaccessible and steep part of
the island has survived undisturbed.
Hurricane Gilbert played havoc in Jamaica in 1988, with torrential rains and winds.
Subsequent extreme flooding and numerous landslides left a toll of death, homeless
people and much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed. But blame was not on nature
alone. Increasing deforestation in Jamaica’s mountains and the resulting soil erosion
worsened the impact of the hurricane.
The country has a sad record of local deforestation speed, much of it due to the fast
growing tourism industry and agriculture expansion, mainly coffee plantations. While the
tourism industry replaces beaches and forests with newly built hotels and roads,
inappropriate agricultural practices on lands where forests once grew have resulted in
accelerated soil erosion that cause downstream sedimentation and flooding. Like a chain
reaction, this has caused the degradation of the coral reefs and beaches that surround the
But bauxite mining -- the island’s second largest foreign exchange earner after tourism--
is considered to be the single largest cause of deforestation in Jamaica. On the one hand,
this activity destroys large areas of forest because bauxite is extracted by open cast
mining, which requires the complete removal of vegetation and topsoil. But at the same
time bauxite mining is an indirect cause of deforestation through the opening of access
roads into forests. Once access roads are cut, loggers, coal burners and yam stick traders
move in, taking the trees in and around the designated mining areas. Mining is thus
responsible for extensive deforestation far beyond the mining areas themselves.
Kaiser --owned by the US-based company of the same name-- Alumina Partners (Alpart)
--owned jointly by Kaiser and Norwegian Hydro-- and Alcan --owned by Alcan Canada
and the Jamaican government-- are the outstanding players whose mining rights
supersede all others under Jamaican law.
In recent years, deforestation has led to the deterioration of more than a third of Jamaica’s
watersheds, drying up streams and rivers and rendering cities and towns suffering from
lack of water. The diversity of plant and animal life is also threatened by the destruction
of forests, leading to the loss of traditional ways of life, the knowledge about local plants
and their medical and other uses.
Although there are currently plans and projects to sustainably manage existing forests and
to restore degraded areas through tree planting activities, it is clearly necessary to address
the direct and underlying causes leading to deforestation in order to create the adequate
conditions to achieve that aim. And if bauxite mining is the "the single largest cause of
deforestation in Jamaica", then this should be the starting point to revert the process.