New Budget to Facilitate Forest Conservation and Safeguard Biodiversity
For various reasons, Fiji’s forest loss is at an average of 4,000 hectares annually over the last two decades. This must clearly change and although the National Program to plant 30 Million Trees in 15 Years is ahead of schedule, with more than seven million trees planted in two and half years since 2019, there are many complex issues that need to be addressed to turn the tide for the restoration of native forest areas to recover the maximum values of biodiversity, air, water and carbon storage; while also managing forest plantations to cater for our timber needs.
The Forest Resource Assessment and Conservation (FRAC) Division of the Ministry of Forestry has been tasked with assessing and reporting on the status of Fiji’s forests, as well as developing forest conservation instruments via its mandate to manage the gazetted Forest and Nature Reserves.
New technology to undertake surveys includes the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for assessing forest status, and the acquisition of various drones and sensors is underway to make the exercise more efficient in collecting more accurate high resolution data.
In the fiscal year 2021 -2022, the Permanent Sample Plots (PSPs) budget will be utilised to complement the ongoing National Forest Inventory using drones for accuracy assessment of the plots measured, as well as to provide more detailed information on forest composition and structure.
A Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensor will be purchased for carbon measurements surveys and forest inventory analysis. The sensor will cost the Ministry approximately $40,000, with delivery expected in 6 – 8 months. Forestry PSPs and the reserves surrounding the Colo-i-Suva Forestry Station will host the first trials for this technology that must also be calibrated for Fiji’s tropical conditions.
Drones will also be used in other operations such as the harvesting, control, and surveillance of forestry resources throughout Fiji. Drones are also able to provide Forestry personnel with a birds’ eye view on ground activities from a long distance away, and hence will also be used to monitoring for encroachment into gazetted the forest and nature reserves.
Other technological advancements include the use of ArcGIS online for which we currently have budgeted $40,000 annually. The ArcGIS software suite enables us to collect, analyse and visualize real time forest resources data for decision making. Using this software, we also conduct annual forest cover change analysis and its accuracy assessment for Emission Reduction Program reporting and Carbon trading.
The Ministry of Forestry also uses ArcGIS to access near real time satellite imagery to facilitate decision making on harvesting license applications, monitoring harvested areas, and monitoring tree planted areas. ArcGIS online is coupled with machine learning and artificial intelligence to further analyse imagery and data collected with our drones; and with GIS data from our stakeholders, we have greater capacity to analyse data to facilitate sustainable forest management decision-making.
Development of benefits
such as recreation and tourism in forest parks is another vital component of
the FRAC Division via the management of its Forest and Nature Reserves.
Enhancement of the Colo-i-Suva Forest Park is the focus of the current budget,
to ensure safety of all local and international visitors that come to enjoy the
numerous waterfalls and pools and forest walks. The CIS Forest Park staff have
also been working hard this last year in getting the Park’s Entertainment/Events
Facility wholly functional and it will soon be ready for when the Park reopens
when COVID-19 safety protocols are eased.
The Colo-i-Suva Forest
Park has proven to be immensely popular with an approximate average of 2,250
local adults and 300 children visiting the Park monthly. The Park was also a
nature highlight in the Suva vicinity before Fiji had border restrictions in
place because of COVID-19 safety protocols. There was an average of 1,000 international
visitors per month.
The FRAC Division has
plans for the Colo-i-Suva Forest Park and Reserve resource owners to be able to
increase their benefits from the Reserve via employment and programs to further
their participation in the Forest Park activities. Our Forest Park maintenance
and upgrade budget is $43,500 this year.
forest finance mechanisms to appropriately value forest ecosystem
Reporting on forestry
based carbon to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in collaboration
with the Ministry of Economy will be an important task for the Senior Resources
Assessment and Monitoring Officer, besides overseeing all the technological
advancements and other vital forestry reports.
of forest management is becoming the key to accessing higher paying markets
that value sustainably managed forests. Building the supportive native forest
management governance for this is another priority activity of the FRAC
Division, as is lending certification expertise to the Fiji Hardwood
Corporation Limited in their efforts to secure the best markets for Fiji’s high
value mahogany products. This activity has a budget of $10,000.