The US Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture’s (VIDA) Forestry Division has been providing services to private forest landowners, and to community groups involved with forestry projects, since 1998. In 2008 the Congress of the United States of America enacted the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act. This Act included an amendment to the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978. The amendment required each State and Territory to provide a Statewide Assessment of Forest Resources and a Statewide Forest Resources Strategy to the Secretary of Agriculture, USDA, by June 2010. The Forestry Division of the VI Department of Agriculture produced a 215-page document, the US Virgin Islands Forest Resources Assessment and Strategies, to meet this legal requirement.
This document outlines the status of the forests of the Virgin Islands, identifies goals for the Forestry Division, and outlines strategies needed to reach those goals. Most of these goals can be reached through the three primary programs undertaken by the Forestry Division, including: the Urban and Community Forestry Program; the Forest Stewardship Program; and the Forest Legacy Program. All of these forestry programs are funded by grants to the VI Department of Agriculture from the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and administered through the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF) in San Juan, Puerto Rico. These programs are described below:
URBAN & COMMUNITY FORESTRY PROGRAM
The forest ecosystem of the Virgin Islands can best be described as sub-tropical dry forest, but each individual island retains a unique combination of flora and associated fauna due to weather patterns, size, and topography. As tourism is the main economy of the Virgin Islands and there is no timber industry to speak of, forest resources serve the community through their aesthetic qualities - providing the distinctly ''tropical'' look that visitors to the islands seek. The Virgin Islands urban forests also provide precious shade for the community and often play a large role in food production as many tropical trees provide edible fruit. Urban trees significantly reduce pollution from vehicles by absorbing exhaust, absorbing heat from concrete areas, controlling and subduing noise, increasing property values, and cutting air conditioning costs. New research has shown that urban areas that have trees and other types of green space have lower crime rates, and such green spaces contribute to residents’ improved physical and mental health.
The Urban and Community Forestry Program of the Virgin Islands offers opportunities to provide and enhance the islands' urban forests. The main focus of the program for its eleven years of operation has been the provision of small grants to organizations interested in projects that improve the VI urban forest, through tree planting, tree preservation, educational workshops, and skills trainings. While funding these projects is an essential component of the Program, there is much potential for work in other areas, such as direct outreach and education, organization of tree planting efforts in communities, and working on a tree ordinance for the territory.
The work of the Urban & Community Forestry Program is coordinated by the Urban & Community Forestry (U&CF) Coordinator, who works for the Forestry Division, and overseen by the USVI Urban & Community Forestry (U&CF) Council, a not-for-profit organization of Territory residents who represent government agencies, environmental organizations, natural resource professionals, and other local organizations.
Each year, the Urban & Community Forestry (U&CF) Program announces the availability of grants for urban forestry projects. Organizations and agencies in the US Virgin Islands may apply for grants up to $20,000. Grants require a 1-to-1 match to the amount requested; however, matches may be met through in-kind donations and volunteer time. Grant awards will be made on a competitive basis. The deadline for application submissions are twice each year, on the first business Monday of May and the first business Monday of November. Grant proposals are due into the main office of the VI Department of Agriculture by 5:00 pm on these two days.
The U&CF Program is designed to encourage citizen involvement in urban and community forestry projects throughout the Territory. The Program seeks proposals for project funding from local government, nonprofit organizations, civic and/or educational organizations, including but not limited to schools, homeowners’ associations, service clubs, and environmental organizations. The U&CF Program is looking for projects in the following areas:
PLEASE NOTE: The U&CF Program does NOT fund strictly agricultural projects. Projects must have a major forestry component to be eligible for funding.
Every application submitted to the U&CF Program is evaluated by a team of natural resource professionals who provide a score for each proposal to the U&CF Council. The Council meets to decide which applications will be awarded funding. All applicants will receive a letter from the U&CF Coordinator within six weeks of receipt of their applications giving the results. If your project is awarded funding, the U&CF Coordinator will provide you with additional information to manage your project.
Urban & Community Forestry Coordinator
FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM
The Forest Stewardship Program has provided technical assistance to Territory forest landowners since 1998. By providing natural resource management plans and technical assistance to landowners, the program promotes wise use and active management of forest resources in the United States Virgin Islands. Guided by practical information about their properties, landowners are encouraged to implement practices that promote economic, social, and ecological benefits on their forested land. The program offers alternative management incentives for landowners to manage their forest resources for the long term. Landowners who actively manage their properties according to the Forest Stewardship Program management plan are offered a reduction in property taxes, as the government of the Virgin Islands recognizes the benefits of forested land and responsible resource use.
In 2000, the program organized the US Virgin Islands Forest Stewardship Coordinating Committee (FSCC). This body of influential Territorial natural resource professionals meets quarterly to approve forest management plans and guide the work of the Forest Stewardship Program. More than 1,000 acres of forested lands on St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John are now managed responsibly under the Forest Stewardship Program.
The Forest Stewardship Program works primarily with private landowners who have at least three acres of forested land and who agree to manage their forested land for a period of ten (10) years in accordance with the management plan developed by the Forest Stewardship Program Coordinator and the landowner, working together. The Forest Stewardship Program Coordinator meets with landowners, discusses their goals for the property, advises on other goals that are considered important to the process, and makes direct observations about the plant and animal species found on the property. The Coordinator presents the plan to the FSCC, whose members review the plan, make corrections/changes, and finally approve the plan. Once the plan is approved, the Forest Stewardship Pledge is signed by both the landowner(s) and the Territorial Forester. Participants in forest stewardship continue to have access to technical assistance, both from the Coordinator and other members of the FSCC, as needed. They also agree to allow the Coordinator to visit their properties on an annual basis, in order to determine that landowners are implementing the plan. These visits allow the Coordinator to approve tax exemptions on properties with active plans for the previous calendar year.
FOREST LEGACY PROGRAM
The Forest Legacy Program seeks to identify and preserve land in a forested state, either by outright purchase or by purchase of easements or deed restrictions that limit development on the land. By identifying landowners in priority areas who are willing to sell their property (or development rights), the program plans to preserve ecologically, historically, and culturally important forested land. Priority tracts of land were identified by the Forest Stewardship Coordinating Committee (FSCC) after public meetings and discussions with natural resource professionals through an Assessment of Need (AON) process. In 2009 the FSCC members reviewed the AON and determined that it needed just minor editing to be useful for an additional five years. Priority areas identified through the Statewide Assessment of Forest Resources are now targeted for future Forest Legacy proposals. As always, approval from the President and Congress is required to purchase land under this program. Upon approval, the VI Department of Agriculture is authorized to perform all the duties necessary to purchase land and/or easements according to guidelines from USDA. The Department will then hold title to and manage the land for maximum public benefit. These lands will be considered 'working' forests, and will be managed as such.
At present, six priority areas for conservation under the Forest Legacy Program in the US Virgin Islands have been identified: on St. Croix, the northwestern corner and east end; on St. Thomas, the north shore and the west end; and on St. John, the east end and the south shore. The northwestern comer of St. Croix was chosen as the number one priority tract for Forest Legacy for the whole US Virgin Islands.
The FSCC works with landowners in the priority areas to identify properties that should be protected in perpetuity. It is a requirement that land purchased using federal funds must have a 25% local match to those funds. This match may be met through donations of land, donations of conservation easements, or cash.
Every year the Forest Stewardship Program Coordinator submits a proposal to the US Forest Service for funding to purchase lands in a priority area in the Territory. As this is a competitive process, funding is not available every year. So far, funds have been awarded to the US Virgin Islands in 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010, for a total of nearly $3 million. The Program is also responsible for eliciting the donation of a 30-acre conservation easement on the island of St. Croix that is being managed by a partner, the Trust for Virgin Islands Lands, Inc.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ANY OF THESE PROGRAMS CONTACT: