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Leaf 3: Update on Land in Care

A leaf from:

This Broken Land of Promise:

A Chronicle of Conservation in the Hispaniolan Border Country

The Tree Bank is about to acquire more land. Cosme and Manolo, the program’s Co-Directors, have given me preliminary information on new program sites. If their estimates hold up, the following three initiatives will benefit.

1. Our Bosques Rentables (“Profitable Forests”) project, begun in pilot form last year, will add about six acres on four farms, bringing total land area enrolled in this initiative to about 10 acres on nine farms.

Bosques Rentables is intended to restore native forest canopy on low-value, deforested farmland. Enrolled areas are planted with native tree seedlings grown at the Tree Bank nurseries. Once those trees begin to cast some shade — about five years after planting — they will be underplanted with coffee or cocoa seedlings. Both coffee and cocoa are high-value tree crops, and in both cases, the preferred local cultivars do much better in shade than in sun. The prospect of coffee and cocoa revenue creates an incentive for enrolling land in this project.

2. Our Pino Criollo y Ganado (“Dominican Pine and Cattle”) project, beginning just this spring, has thus far attracted about 15 acres. I don’t yet know the number of participating farms.

The Pino Criollo project is intended to reestablish stands of a very large native pine, Hispaniolan pine (Pinus occidentalis), in mountain pastures. This pine is endemic to Hispaniola — it doesn’t occur naturally anywhere else — and it was once a dominant species in much of the island’s interior mountain forests. There are still large stands of it in our region but extensive logging has precipitated decline throughout its range and it is now listed by the IUCN as endangered. As I understand it, some of the island’s bird species depend heavily on this pine and would probably not survive its extinction. Our project will replant savanna-like stands of the pine in pasture. Once the pine is established, cattle won’t hurt it, and the pine grows naturally in very open groves, which won’t shade out pasture grasses. Because the pine grows so large, the prospect of an eventual timber harvest is a powerful incentive for enrolling land in this project. Of course, we hope to manage any such harvest, to keep the pine populations healthy.

3. Our Crédito Forestal (“Forest Credit”) project has enrolled three more farmers this spring. Our new clients have committed about 20 acres of forest to conservation easements, bringing the project’s total area in easement to about 195 acres on about 40 farms. (These two numbers are approximate because some client farms have changed ownership and the intentions of the new owners are not always clear.)

Crédito Forestal makes modest lines of credit available to farmers, in exchange for conservation easements on forest remaining on their lands. The project is the region’s only low-cost farm credit program and has proved very popular. Last year, Forest Credit lent about $18,000 to 36 farms. (Not every client farm borrows every year.) Last year's smallest loan was $178; the largest was $1,111; the average was $511 and the median was $489.

The growth of these three projects, combined with land in care through other Tree Bank initiatives, will bring the program’s total land area to about 290 acres. Give or take! The Tree Bank is now 10 years old and the program is complicated enough to make a complete reckoning of any of its elements a challenge. This year, Matt and I are hoping to organize some procedures that will improve our on-the-ground accounting. I’ll write about that in another leaf.

A little context for all of this tree planting: I estimate that tree canopy in our region currently covers about one-third of the landscape. I’m judging from a satellite photograph of uncanny clarity that Matt and I bought last year. But not all of this tree canopy is forest; some canopy consists of Honduran pine (Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis) plantations, mango trees, and various other alien tree species. Probably less than a quarter of the landscape is under native forest canopy.

My Dominican colleagues tell me that the region had much more extensive forest as recently as the 1970s. But it suffered a major bout of deforestation at the end of that decade and into the 1980s, following the close of President Joaquín Balaguer’s second term in 1978. Balaguer served three non-consecutive terms as president of the Dominican Republic. He favored economic development, political murder, and, apparently, forest: during his 12-year second term, he managed to keep logging under tight control. When the controls came off, people reacted in predictable fashion. Out in our project area, pretty well everyone seems to regret the results.

“This Broken Land of Promise” is my attempt to describe and interpret our Tree Bank Hispaniola program. I welcome your comments and questions. Please write me in the comment box below or email me at

— Chris Bright

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Banner: Late October in a mixed stand of hickories, oaks, and American beech at Fountainhead Regional Park, on the northern shore of the Occoquan River, in Fairfax County, Virginia. Photo by Chris Bright. 

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