FIA in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Foresters Attend Agrifest Before Next Inventory

agrifest-tent
Exhibits sponsored by the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture and the USDA Forest Service were located in the main exhibitors area of the Agrifest farmers market. Photo by Tom Brandeis, USFS.

The 49th Annual Agriculture and Food Fair of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Agrifest, was held on the island of St. Croix in February. Agrifest is the largest agriculture and food explosion and celebration in the Caribbean – drawing thousands of fairgoers from around the world.

USDA Forest Service scientists Tom Brandeis, Humfredo Marcano-Vega, and Kathleen McGinley attended the event. Its theme was Agriculture: Trendy in 2020, highlighting current trends in agriculture and farming.

The Forest Service Team represented the agency and worked as exhibitors during the three-day premier agricultural event that included music, food, crafts, and endless activities for all ages. The Team met with local islanders, shared packets of information on past Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA) results, and provided information on the fourth forest inventory of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), currently underway.

“The timing of the Agrifest could not have been better, coinciding with the fourth forest inventory of the USVI,” says Brandeis, a SRS research forester with FIA. “It was a great outreach opportunity and the perfect venue to meet local residents and landowners, explain the forest inventory process, and answer questions.”

usvi-stjohn-forest
The Virgin Islands National Park on the island St. John is one of the few places left in the Caribbean where one can find a relatively large, dense, and protected subtropical moist forest. Photo by Ixia Aviles-Vasquez, IITF/USFS.

FIA began conducting forest inventories on the three major islands of the USVI – St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas – in 2004, with remeasurements of the forests every five years.

Based on the most recent USVI resource bulletin, Forests of the U.S. Virgin Island, 2014, St. Thomas – the most densely populated island with the most active tourism sector – has the lowest percentage of forest cover at 43.6 percent.

St. John – home to the Virgin Islands National Park – has the highest percentage of forest cover at 81.3 percent. And St. Croix’s complex mix of developed land, agriculture, and forests percentage is just under half at 49.6 percent.

“These forests provide critical ecosystem services that are far more valuable than the timber products they contain,” says Marcano-Vega, a SRS research biologist with FIA and author of the USVIA resource bulletin. “A good example is the regulation of fresh water. Tree cover permits greater infiltration and retention of rainwater that supplies Islanders with clean drinking water.”

fia-crew-stcroix
FIA field crews assess land use change on a St. Croix pasture that’s changing to forest as trees encroach. Photo by Tom Brandeis, USFS.

“The USVI forests are also important to local fisheries and to the tourism industry – they provide a range of culturally important goods and services,” says McGinley, a research social scientist with the International Institute of Tropical Forestry. “The forests are considered biodiversity refuges, providing habitat to many bird, reptile, and plant species endemic to the islands and the Caribbean.”

The fourth inventory of the USVI includes several firsts that will enhance results and create a better understanding of and appreciation for the islands’ diverse landscape:

  • It is the first inventory to take place after two Category 5 hurricanes. Irma and Maria caused widespread damage to the USVI in 2017.
  • It is the first forest inventory to incorporate urban areas – an inventory of trees on all lands. Urban FIA Program protocols will be used for non-forested areas to measure trees as well as the percent of coverage of other types of vegetation and impervious surfaces.
  • The National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS), will be conducted in the USVI for the first time. NWOS is a periodic survey conducted throughout the U.S. that provides information on how many private forest owners there are, why they own forest land, how they have used their forest land in the past, and their future plans for the land.
  • It is the first forest inventory to foster greater collaboration with the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDA), the organizers of the Agrifest. Commissioner Positive Nelson and Assistant Commissioner Diana Collingwood have committed to providing personnel to assist with making landowner contacts and field data collection.

The FIA program has been collecting, analyzing, and reporting data on the status and trends of America’s forest since 1930. This on-the-ground forest inventory of post-hurricane assessments, Urban FIA data, and NWOS will provide resource managers with information to assess ecosystem sustainability and management practices – and policymakers with information needed to support planning and decision-making activities.

Just as the annual Agrifest offers an opportunity for visitors to learn about the rich culture and agricultural industry of the USVI, the forest inventories conducted by FIA offer insight into the valuable and unique forest resources found throughout the USVI, and how they are changing over time.

Read the full text of the FIA resource bulletin on USVI forests.

For more information, email Tom Brandeis at thomas.j.brandeis@usda.gov.

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