“Trees are of vital importance to our everyday life in the Virgin Islands, both from an environmental as well as an economic standpoint,” stated Mario Francis, chair of the 14th Caribbean Urban and Community Forestry Conference.
Beyond beautification: the real value of urban forests was the central theme that brought together more than 100 attendees for this week’s three day conference held at the UVI administration conference room. “This conference is of particular importance to St. Thomians because we are yet to have an environmental conscience that can more readily be found on St. John and St. Croix,” said Francis.
With attendees and guest speakers from as far away as Colombia and Washington, D.C., to Puerto Rico and St. John, the day’s lectures as well as question and answer periods were also broadcast to the UVI St. Croix campus via teleconference.
Hosted by the USVI Urban & Community Forestry Council Inc., Friday’s speakers followed a common theme in that “the right tree in the right place” should be a necessity for roadside plantings and new construction, as architects and city planners incorporate new landscaping scenarios.
Guest speaker Brian Daley, a geographic consultant from St. Croix, spoke about the establishment of territory-wide protocols for roadside plantings, pointing out the pitfalls of inappropriate plantings that do not take into account the potential for root damage as well as low-hanging branches that inhibit smooth traffic flow of high profile vehicles.
“From an educational standpoint we should begin with the children,” said Alcedo Justin and Anna Wallace Francis, founders of the St. Thomas based Environmental Rangers as well as owner-operators of Camp Umoja, an eco-educational campground.
“What starts at the top of the mountain flows down to the sea, and we need to understand the relationships between all types of trees and native plantings that exist around us,” said Francis.
St. Croix Environmental Association Executive Director Paul Charkroff completed the slate of morning presenters by illustrating the offset to rising fuel bills in the territory by promoting the planting and proper maintenance of native shade trees around homes and common areas. “Preserving the environmental quality of our tropical island and the quality of life of our residents and visitors needs to be seen for what it is – sound business practice for anyone interested in more than short-term gain.”
The forestry conference runs until Saturday and will feature a historical tour of Hassel Island and Friday evening awards ceremony.