New River not Guyana’s only remaining pristine untouched areas of Guyana’s Forest
-Survey of full resource base of the area required
In the recent APNU’s Weekly Press Briefing on January 10, 2014 the New River area was named to be the “last pristine untouched area of the Guyana forest”. This statement was made by APNU and in particular its Vice Chairman, Dr. Rupert Roopnarine.
Dr. Roopnarine perhaps was at the time seeking to justify his party’s much-criticized objection to an assessment of the area’s mineral resources through a Permission for a Geological and Geophysical Survey.
However, the APNU commentary, which called for an assessment of the biodiversity of the area to be done is welcomed and shows a keen interest in recognizing forest for not only timber but also for rich biodiversity value.
One of the key resource base of the New River area is its biodiversity resources; but the resource base of this area is not limited to just biodiversity but also to forest carbon sequestration services, potential eco-tourism activities, research and technical studies, bioprospecting and minerals and timber.
Planning for a forest area of these characteristics, or more aptly called High Conservation Value Forest, requires adequate information, effective foresight and strategic coordination. For these reasons, it was identified as essential to effectively assess/survey the full resource base of this area.
With these points in context, and a clear call for an assessment of the resource base (biodiversity referred to by Dr. Roopnarine), it would be somewhat partial and incomplete to only recognize the need to assess the resource base as it relates to biodiversity, for this area.
All resources, including minerals must be included to know the true value and wealth of an area. The results of such assessment along with other non-environmental related considerations, should determine how and to what use the area is put as it would be premature to make a decision with incomplete information, or to make a decision with no information. This decision when effectively assessed and with adequate information, can mean that an area can be allocated for conservation, sustainable utilization, allocation as titled lands to Indigenous peoples, area management as community conservation area, a national protected area, or a wide gamut of options.
This kind of strategizing requires not just some information, but full information on the resource base. This has been and remains the thinking of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment as an activity that relates to not only the New River area but other areas, and there are others, that have high conservation value or as some may refer to, as pristine areas.
Dr. Roopnarine referred to the New River area as the last pristine untouched area of Guyana’s forest. National level assessment of forest cover, for not only the historic period but also covering current periods, conclude that the New River area is a pristine untouched area, like most areas in south of Guyana, but it’s not the only remaining pristine area of forest in Guyana.
National assessment conducted under Guyana REDD+ programme , which have been subject to independent verification and certified as accurate, have concluded that Guyana has a total area of forest remaining as at end of 2012 (assessments for year 2013 is currently ongoing), of 18,487,876 hectares. This assessment applies international definitional standards for forest under a climate change programme and set based on the Marrakech Accords. This area has remained largely intact following year of historic and ongoing current utilization activities.
Summarizing all of this at national scale, one can look to Guyana’s rate of deforestation which has ranged between 0.02% to 0.079% over the 22 years. This substantiates the fact that the vast majority of Guyana’s forest remains intact to this day, even with continuous utilization activities ongoing and has been maintained this way owing to the existing functional framework of sustainable management.
From another perspective, Intact Forest Landscape which are defined, among other secondary variable, as area of contiguous (unbroken) blocks of 50,000 hectares that excludes all allocated land utilization activities (forestry, mining, agriculture, settlements/villages/communities, infrastructure), has totaled to 7,604,580 hectares. This area has only change minimally over the past three years when formal monitoring began on this. And for areas that are allocated for utilization, this is done within a framework of sustainable management, for example, in the case of forest concession where timber extraction is strictly regulated with a Code of Practice, among other requirements.
Another point of note is the allocation of pristine forest to the National Protected Area System. Within the past two years, the protected areas within Guyana’s forest have increased to four Protected Areas that come under the scope of the Protected Areas Act are: Iwokrama, Shell Beach, Kanuku Mountains and Kaieteur National Part. Altogether these account for a total of 1,141, 000 ha designated as Protected Areas.
These areas represent pristine areas of forest that have been in this state for centuries and continue to be in a pristine condition even in present time when forest, globally, are under growing pressures for utilization and extractive type activities.
With these points in context, whilst the New River area is a pristine forest area of Guyana, it is most certainly NOT THE ONLY remaining pristine untouched area of Guyana’s forest.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment is confident that as like-minded Guyanese including our partners working within the political opposition, we share the common goal of wanting to see our forest remain for future generations, and in doing so maintaining the wide range of goods and services which the forest provide, including biodiversity, forest carbon, timber and minerals.
Finding the best way to do this can present multiple options and we must remain open minded in our approach as there may not be a single best solution but several workable solutions that can be implemented to address the development challenges that confront us.