A land purchase gives us greater flexibility and protections.

You’ve probably read the latest copy of The Acorn and heard the good news about our new park. Just to get everyone up to speed: we purchased about 45 acres in the outskirts of the village of Los Cerezos. About half of it is forested, the rest is “retired” farmland. This park marks our first outright land purchase for the Tree Bank — all of the other land that we have in conservation are through arrangements with local farmers.

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Coffee could be headed towards extinction — We’re on it.

Those of you who follow food blogs, or environmental news may have head about how climate change could be driving coffee to extinction. If you drink our Rising Forests Coffee, don’t be alarmed, we still have plenty of coffee. You can watch a video presentation of some of the relevant research here: http://www.scaasymposium.org/aaron-davis-arabica-from-origin-to-extinction/

Some of the main culprits are decreasing genetic diversity, diseases (such as coffee leaf rust) and pests, and habitat destruction.

While we are not actively involved in protecting coffee as a species (this would be somewhat at odds with our dual mission of restoring native forest and alleviating poverty), we do our best to encourage coffee agriculture in a way that is sustainable not just in regards to the local landscape but in a broader sense as well.

To that end, we are growing a local varietal of arabica coffee that is favored in our region of the Dominican Republic. Since our region of the DR is not a big coffee producer, we are helping to preserve some genetic variability that otherwise might be at risk of disappearing.

Research has shown that coffee trees that are grown in healthy forest community, instead of monocultures, tend to be healthier and more resistant to diseases and pests. You can read for yourself here (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1020266709570)

Our coffee program is only inextricably linked to our broader forest restoration goals, so we are helping ensure that there will exist healthy native forest habitat for generations to come. These forests provide a bevy of ecological services ranging from habitat for native pollinators to buffering and filtering stream runoff.

These common sense solutions are cost effective and maintain both the ecological health of Hispaniolan forest as well as the economic health of our community.

By the Numbers: Tree Bank Nursery

In 2011, we distributed over 21,000 trees from our Tree Bank Nursery. To those of you who don’t know, our Tree Bank Nursery works on the same principles as our Wild Plant Nursery in the Washington, DC area.  Seeds are collected from wild local-ecotype plants. We plant the seeds and when they’re ready (a year for some species, some only a few weeks, others several years) they get planted into existing forest or new land that is being restored to native forest.

Here are some of the highlights of the 21,000 trees we planted in 2011:

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New Members Join the Tree Bank; Here’s Why

Nine new members have officially joined our Tree Bank microcredit program! This brings the total number of enrolled farms to 29. Collectively they have enrolled about 35 more acres of threatened tropical forest into our program. The grand total of land enrolled in microcredit-easement is just shy of 95 acres.

This number represents the largest year-to-year expansion of our microcredit program. We now get so many applicants that Gaspar has to routinely turn people away. This growing popularity demonstrates the success of our model: long-term involvement and investment to combat long-standing problems. In the seven years that we’ve been working in the Dominican Republic, we’ve gone to great lengths to establish ties to the community and build the mutual trust and understanding that is too often missing from the modus operandi of international NGOs.

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DR News: confiscated lumber to be put to good use

This post is my take on some recent news out of the DR. You can read the full article here: http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/poverty/2013/1/18/46426/Environment-confiscates-timber-builds-houses-for-the-poor

Logging in the Dominican Republic is tightly regulated. Most native canopy trees (e.g. Hispaniolan pine (Pinus occidentalis), West Indies mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) can’t be cut down without express government permission. Limited coppicing — cutting back branches without killing the tree — is allowed for some species; an essential exception since most rural communities here are still dependent on wood-burning cook fires.

Trees used for timber are usually limited to an exotic invasive species of Honduran pine (Pinus caribaea hondurensis) because of regulatory hurdles involved in getting permission to use native pine as a lumber source. But native pine, and even more so mahogany, are high value lumber and many lumber mills — some built with money from U.S. based NGOs or USAID — are locally run with little government oversight. While I generally write about the threat posed to tropical forest by the slow economic collapse of small-holder farms, illegal logging is clear threat to tropical forest in the Dominican Republic.

I’ve seen the effects of illegal logging around Los Cerezos. Gaspar and I hiked to the source of a stream that the village depends on for drinking water, laundry, and cooking. We were dismayed to find that the owner had illegally cut over 50 stems of pine and then dragged them across the stream bed to a nearby road. The logs alone had destroyed the stream bed and created an impromptu dam of branches and soil. With no tree roots to hold back the hillside, loose clay was already running down into the stream. Just one patch of cut timberlot had clogged a stream that a couple hundred people depend on every day. And the increased runoff into the stream will continue for years and raise the parasite load in the water. Gaspar said he would investigate who the owner of the lot was, but chances are high that he simply got away with it — out in the campo there is little official law enforcement.

So, it’s good to see that the government is cracking down on illegal logging and that already harvested and milled lumber will go to a good cause. However, strong government bans on harvesting timber are doing little to help small-holder farmers. Forest continues to be destroyed (since the crackdown is on selling lumber, many farmers are free to cut down whole swathes of forest to farm without fear of legal troubles as long as they don’t try to sell the resulting lumber)to make way for fields of beans and rice which are then abandoned once the soil is exhausted — sometimes in as little as 5 years. Allowing farmers to sustainably manage woodlots could help to control erosion and maintain soil quality while providing farmers will a drought-resistant form of income that can also be a store of wealth from generation to generation.

While we aren’t, and don’t intend to be involved in woodlot management, it’s important to consider how to make activities that are sometimes seen as anathema to conservation work in a sustainable context and address local needs.