By: Tom Gill
Baltimore: Tropical Plant Research Foundation and Charles Lathrop Pack Foresttry Trust, 1931
pages 137-146


The Haitian Republic covers the western third of the Island of Haiti, the second largest in the West Indies. Its area totals about 10,200 square miles, including the two nearby islands of Gonave and Tortuga. Like Porto Rico, it was probably originally covered with some form of forest vegetation, except for the arid areas. The island is extremely mountainous, with numerous small streams flowing down from the uplands, most of them being swift and shallow, navigable only by canoes, and for only a few miles above the mouths. All conditions of climate exist between arid and very humid, and these conditions are reflected in the forests. The population of Haiti is estimated at well over two million people, ninety-nine percent of them of negro origin. The aboriginal Indians at the time of the island's discovery may have numbered almost as many, but under Spanish rule, which began soon after the island's discovery, these primitive people were exterminated in a few decades. Under later French domination African slaves were imported at an early date into the colony to create vast sugar plantations, and it is the descendants of these who now form the Haitian people of today. Haiti is a republic whose population is essentially rural, and where agriculture has reached great importance.

Three hundred years of forest denudation have completely altered the vegetation in all the


accessible areas. Valuable species have been exhausted, and the great areas of original forest growth replaced by agriculture. So, although today the importance of Haiti as a timber exporting country is negligible, a large amount of wood is being consumed locally, especially in the form of firewood. From that standpoint wood, although it does not appear among the list of export commodities, is one of Haiti's most valuable crops.

The great local uses of the forests of Haiti are for fuel and charcoal. These two are much more important than all other forest uses combined, since forests mean the only source of fuel for over two million people. Protection forests are important in Haiti because of the heavy, sudden storms, and the fact that most of the large rivers are used for irrigation. Haiti's forest department is fully alive to this important function, and is considering the creation of national forests on the upper waters of all important streams.

The forests of Haiti may be divided into the usual tropical timber types, with the addition of a pine type. This type consists of practically pure Pinus occidentalis, with an undergrowth of grass and in the mountains a dense understory of Eugenia. The pine occurs in all ages, and individuals up to six feet in diameter are not uncommon. At present it is not commercially important


because of its inaccessibility, but it will probably be exploited when transportation facilities reach it. As a matter of conservation the pine on these mountains should never be lumbered but held in perpetuity as protection forests. It is a type that can be extended by planting and as a matter of fact, has been badly abused by the natives in their search for kindling wood. Fires and wind also have played havoc, but conuco agriculture has not affected it greatly. The pine forest of Haiti contains more saw timber than all other types combined.

Along the coast, especially the northern coast bordering on the Plain of the North, mangrove stretches with an average width of nearly a mile. Large amounts of the three species of mangrove which make up this coastal fringe are being used for firewood, and a very small part locally for tanning.

The dry forest type varies from almost pure cactus where conditions are most arid to fairly dense stands of bayahonde (Prosopis juliflora) on the semi-arid sites. Other species found in this type are lignumvitae, bois blanc, gommier, ceiba, and others, the type becoming more complex as the rainfall increases. Bayahonde is the most abundant species, in association with acacia. This type is found on the semi-arid plains and much of it


occupies agricultural land formerly under irrigation and cultivated during colonial times. It is a type that will inevitably diminish as clearing for agriculture progresses, and is only important for fenceposts, firewood, charcoal, and some railroad ties.

The deciduous type is the most extensive in Haiti. It is practically the only important type, and from it comes logwood, mahogany, and bois chene. A great variety of trees compose the deciduous forest in addition to the three mentioned, including candelon, gommier, and a host of others. But its chief importance is as a source of logwood, and from this type practically all of that species comes. In its upper reaches mahogany and logwood are absent, and the laurels become very prominent. In this type also occurs the bulk of the coffee, and a large part still in forest is allowed to remain untouched because it provides shade for this crop.

The upland rain forests mount from elevations of 4500 feet to the upper limits of the mountains, except where pine has encroached. This type is spotty, and if mapped would appear as narrow bands encircling the tops of the mountains. It is characterized by tree ferns and a great quantity of little known and rare trees. Many of the laurels are here. There is no large timber, and no


forest products are supplied by this type, which is of importance only for protection. It will probably always remain inaccessible and unused.

There is very little fire damage throughout the forests of Haiti, except in the pine, where reproduction has been destroyed or held back over large areas. The central plain has been kept from returning to forest growth by annual grass burning. Grazing has no appreciable effect on the forests. One point that is unique about most of Haiti's forests is the fact that after cutting or destruction by some other means the forest type is followed immediately by the type that preceded it. In other words, plant succession after agricultural clearing comes back to the original species without any intermediate crop. This is largely because bayahonde occupies the greater portion of the stands, and when cut is a vigorous sprouter.

The forest products of Haiti are only of importance from the standpoint of local use, and this reduces itself to fuel and charcoal, both of which come largely from bayahonde. As much bayahonde is used for charcoal as all other species combined. Practically all of the charcoal comes from two sources-the mangrove swamps and the dry forests.

In colonial times the portion of Haiti settled by the French was all under private ownership


except portions of the high mountains. After the revolution and the expulsion of the French planters, Haiti paid France for the land then held and thus acquired title to all the territory now known as the Republic of Haiti. As a result the entire republic became state land, but since that time titles have become chaotic and are still in a turbulent stage, although under American intervention this puzzling and vexatious problem is beginning to be worked out. Lands are recognized as state lands which have never been given away by the government.

There is no organization of a lumber industry in Haiti. There are no logging activities of any size and logwood is the only forest product of any importance. Logging methods for this species, are quite primitive, and consist in cutting down the trees, hewing off the sapwood, and loading the heartwood on small donkeys. The wood is then taken to a speculator, or middleman. There it is weighed and paid for and taken to the port, where it is sold for export.

A treaty signed in 1923 with the United States established the Service Technique, whose activities approach those of our own Department of Agriculture in the United States. The Service is under a Director General and is divided into three departments: professional education, forestry, and


agronomy. Forestry projects are carried on by a Director of Silviculture. Actual forestry has been necessarily limited in Haiti by scarcity of funds, and the activities have been largely the assembling of data on the forest resources, studies of timber and its uses, assembling wood collections, passing a forestry law, and establishing a forest nursery where important timber species are planted and studied.

The forest law passed in 1926 provides that the Service Technique shall report to the President of Haiti on certain regions which by their' nature may be desirable for national forests. The President may then proclaim such regions National Forest Reserves. Under this law it has been planned to create a number of national forests, but the program is being held in abeyance because of the present impossibility of determining state lands. One forest was created in 1926, with an area of about 100,000 acres, containing logwood and mahogany. Nothing has been done to administer this land. The plan is that ultimately national forests will cover the islands of Tortuga and Gonave, and eventually it is hoped to put all of the state owned non-agricultural land in Haiti into national forests.

Silvicultural systems will probably be selective in type, since the forests of logwood and pine are


found in natural selective stands. In over-mature stands concessions will probably be made on the basis of clear cutting and replanting. Any other system would result in only tree weeds being left, and the species grown are usually too valuable to make it practical to leave seed trees.

Research and experimentation will be confined to planting, nursery practice, and utilization of certain abundant woods, such as gommier, now considered worthless.

The future of forestry in Haiti is at best uncertain. The disturbance of 1930 resulted in the appointing of a Presidential commission which visited Haiti, but conditions there are still in so turbulent a stage that it is quite possible the activities of the Service Technique may be discontinued or at least seriously curtailed. Meanwhile the Republic has no Forester and all forestry activities are at a standstill. The future is, at best, uncertain.

Broadly speaking, United States activities in the tropics, as exemplified by Porto Rico and Haiti, have been confined largely to nursery practice and tree planting. There has been very little actual administration of forests, and practically no research into methods of silviculture. One has to confess that British forestry has gone further in the American tropics than United States forestry.


For one thing, the British have been willing to spend sums more commensurate with the importance of their problems, and have been more deeply imbued with the necessity for painstaking research in order to make tropical forest lands productive. They have studied their forests more intimately, and have, in a word, been better administrators of their forest land. Id all this it must be remembered that the two instances of United States forestry in the American tropics have been confined largely to wrecked properties, whereas in the British possessions, especially in British Guiana, the government holds timber resources of immense value and there is more incentive and more immediate reason for the expenditure of funds in their administration.

In the Philippines, the only other example of United States activities in tropical forests, the situation might be compared to conditions in British Guiana. When the United States took over forest administration of these islands, there were extensive forests of unknown and unused species. The task of our foresters in the Philippines was the task of the British Guiana foresters-to develop an export market for the wood. By a vigorous program of timber testing, by a study of the forest composition, and by granting timber concessions to nationals of foreign countries, they were


able in a few years to create a brisk demand for Philippine woods throughout the markets of the world.

So far as Porto Rico and Haiti are concerned, their problems are alike in that the forestry goal consists in re-establishing forests on the non-agricultural parts of their islands, in making these forests of greatest benefit to the local population, and to ultimately free these local populations from the burden of lumber importations.


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