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Ilis Palmer-Rannie

St. Kitts and Nevis (17.15 N, 62.41 W), are members of the Northern Lesser Antilles and are geographically dominated by active volcanic peaks. The crossing of these peaks with the Northeast trade winds provide rain of up to 144 inches per annum and this is capable of providing ample water supplies for the islands.

The islands have a total surface area of 26 100 ha with St. Kitts being 16 800 ha and Nevis 9 300 ha. The population of both islands is 43 500 and the GNP per capita is $6 260 based on figures for 1997.



Based on the Beard classification, the island of St. Kitts has five major remnants of the original forest cover, namely Rain forests, dry evergreen forest, palm estate, elfin woodland and dry scrub woodland. The vegetative zone of Nevis follows a pattern similar to small, volcanic islands and by Beard classified the vegetation in six vegetation zones although he noted extensive secondary scrub woodlands and thornbush. These zones included rain forest, dry evergreen forest, montane thicket, palm break, dry scrub woodland and elfin woodland. Additionally, there are lesser zones of mangrove swamp, littoral woodland and dry zone flora.


There was the establishment of a forestry division in the Department of Agriculture in 1987 whose role was National Forestry Management. This management involved a system of monitoring and reporting on the status of the forest in terms of excessive felling of trees and any activities that are foreign to forest culture. To this date the division has not amplified its role in forestry management. The importance of developing a Forestry division independent of the Department of Agriculture has been proposed on several occasions but this has not been realized because of constraints, two of which might have been the non-existence of a trained forester in the division and the seemingly insignificant economic importance of the forest to the economy of the island. With the establishment of a Ministry of the Environment, it was envisaged that the affairs of forestry would have been addressed under its portfolio but to date this has not been the case. In the sister island of Nevis, there is no forestry division or active forestry management programmes.

The present situation is that the forestry programme is housed under the crops programme out of the Department of Agriculture and is headed by an assigned forestry officer. Although it is seen as an individual subprogramme, the forestry officer is also responsible for Fruit and Tree Crop Production in the Department. An agricultural assistant, a forest guard and three forest rangers additionally support the subprogramme. None of these persons has any formal training in forestry or forestry management. The present forestry officer has been assigned to this post for about seven weeks.


The most important output of the forests in the island is the production of water. The topography and high elevations lend itself to the production of water that is free from contamination and provides watersheds that are able to supply about 85% of the water requirements of the island of St. Kitts and 20% in Nevis. The water department is mostly responsible for the maintenance of these watersheds and has permanent presence in all of the water catchment areas.

Soil conservation is seen as another important role of the forests. The steep terrain and the dense topography of both islands have discouraged the intrusion of man into these forested areas with whose activities might negatively affect the ecological balance of the forest systems.

With the upsurge of ecotourism, man is now entering the forested areas on a more frequent basis and there is need to carefully manage and monitor this practice to ensure there is no unduly negative effects of these activities.

Other minor uses or functions of the forest are for the production of fuel wood for domestic use especially in Nevis even though this practice has diminished significantly. On the islands the main species used in the production of fuel is acacia, a scrub bush that is not found in the typically forested areas. There is also the use of the tamarind tree in some areas where it is available and the possibilities of getting caught cutting the tree and being fined are remote.

A small amount of wood for building material is extracted from the forests. Also extracted are young saplings for the making of fish pots and fence posts. It is noteworthy that words such as "small amounts" are used because there are no statistical data to quantify the amount removed.

Also plants for medicinal purposes, fruits, planting materials e.g. ornamentals and root stock for mango propagation are extracted from the forests. The forest is home to the African green monkey, considered a wild life pest to food producers and some harvesting is done for medical research, a small amount is prepared as a delicacy by some people and even raised as pets. The green monkey is described in tourist circles as shy and illusive and the opportunity to see one on nature trails is considered a great thrill.

Other non-tangible uses of the forests are aesthetics, meditation and to maintain the biodiversity of the islands native flora and fauna.


There is no organized method for the collection of statistics. Reasons for this might be the seemingly small contribution that the forest makes to the GDP of the islands. There is no monetary value attached to the production of water, the maintenance of our soils in an non eroded state or to the other minor products of the forest. Because of the very small-untrained in forestry staff attached to this unit, there is no future outlook in terms of changing this modus operandi and put in place a systematic data collection system for the wood and non-wood forest products removed.



The importance of the forest for ecotourism is a new thrust. With this outlook comes a new series of needs and requirement and a different approach to the management of our forests.

The need for resource inventories in order to document the flora and fauna found along and adjacent to the individual trails.

­  improvement of the trails and the provision for signage on these trails;

­  survey and mapping of nature trails;

­  training programmes focusing on the resource as well as the historical and cultural attributes of the areas.

There is also the need to do impact assessment on the fauna of the islands and the rate of recovery of the forests after being impacted by these hurricanes and determine the necessity for reforestation in the upper watershed areas that would have been more affected by the hurricanes.

The establishment of forest reserves is also envisaged for future development. This is a recommendation that has been made on several occasions and should be acted upon by the powers in charge. In the interim a national park established may serve the function of a forest reserve in terms of conservation and preservation.

A very important need of the forestry unit in order to allow it to perform and expand its role in forestry is the technical training of staffs of the Departments of Agriculture and the Environment involved in forestry. There could also be the possibility of sourcing technical assistance to help strengthen the forestry unit. Recommendations of short-term attachment to other forestry divisions in the OECS and the participation in in-service training programmes organized in the region.

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