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Jamaica's disappearing forests: physical and human aspects

Tole, L.A. (2001) Jamaica's disappearing forests: physical and human aspects. Environmental Management, 28 (4). pp. 455-467. ISSN 0364-152X

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Jamaica is a small island that is losing its forest cover at a rapid rate. Due to the dependency of its largely poor population on the many services and functions its forests provide, this loss threatens to have substantial socioeconomic and ecological consequences for the country. Despite these basic facts, the problem of Jamaican deforestation has received very little attention from the scientific community. This article presents results of an island-wide, satellite-based study of forest change for Jamaica for the period 1987-1992, which was supplemented by a field trip to the island in 1999 to assess the overall accuracy of the estimate. Landsat MSS images, which are available only up until 1992, have proved to be an invaluable and cost-effective resource for mapping forest change in the tropics, particularly in large areas. A supervised classification indicates that Jamaica experienced an average annual deforestation rate of 3.9% for this period, a figure higher than existing estimates based on partial ground surveys but lower than the FAO's 1990 Tropical Forest Assessment of 5.3% for 1981-1990. Deforestation estimates for Jamaica's 14 parishes are also presented, based on the integration of satellite-derived forest classification maps with a parish administrative boundaries map of the island in a GIS. A correlation analysis between parish deforestation estimates and socioeconomic and land use/quality indicators derived from official sources suggests that deforestation is occurring most rapidly in highly populated areas possessing large numbers of small farmers who live and work under resource-poor conditions. By providing a sense of the magnitude of and main forest loss hotspots, it is hoped that these national and subnational level forest estimates will draw scientific attention to the problem of deforestation on the island. In addition, the socioeconomic analysis may provide policy-makers and planners with some sense of the relative contribution of underlying driving process in this deforestation as a first step toward the creation of effective social programs to combat the problem.