Planting hope on Hispaniola: Haiti and the Dominican Republic are both grappling with ravaged forests, each in its own way.

AuthorVentre, Tommy

In a country whose national symbol could be a motorcycle with a blown-out muffler, the Dominican Republic's Armando Bermudez National Park is an oasis of tranquility.


Not much has changed in the park since its founding over half a century ago by Rafael Trujillo, a dictator whose cold-blooded rule lasted for more than 30 years. Punctuated by three 3,000-meter peaks (the Caribbean's highest), draped in stands of Hispaniolan pine, and crisscrossed by streams and waterfalls, the park covers more than 1,000 square kilometers in the Cordillera Central, the central mountain range of the Dominican Republic. By one count, the uninhabited park receives only a few hundred paying visitors a year.

But although much has remained the same inside Armando Bermudez, changes are taking place in the way people living outside the park--indeed, across the entire island--think about the environmental treasures it represents. It's been a slow shift, arguably tracing its roots back to the 1970s when Joaquin Balaguer (Trujillo's one-time protege) set aside 10 percent of the country's land area as parks or scientific reserves. Awareness is rising about crucial environmental themes like the roles healthy forests play in everything from agriculture to water purification. Dovetailing with this increasing awareness is the government's growing desire to address some of the same issues. For evidence of this shift, look no further than the country's new environment and natural resources secretariat, a far cry from Balaguer's draconian anti-logging laws that were enforced by soldiers with machine guns. The spirit of the law is largely the same today (no cutting is allowed without a permit), but the agents charged with enforcing it now answer to the civilian bureaucracy.

These changes are taking place in a critical location. The island of Hispaniola, which the Dominican Republic (the DR) shares with Haiti, extends over 78,000 square kilometers--large enough to be home to a dazzling array of endemic biodiversity, but small enough for that same biodiversity to be wiped out in the evolutionary blink of an eye.

But do changes in attitude--both of the government and the governed--ensure that changes are taking place on the ground? The answer, like the problems facing the island's ecosystems, is complex.

Good Intentions, Some Progress

Directly to the south of Armando Bermudez is another protected area of about the same size called Jose del Carmen Ramirez National Park, whose extensive cloud forests host wild orchids and bromeliads and the source of the Rio Yaque del Sur. Taken together, the Yaque del Sur's watershed and that of the longer Rio Yaque del Norte, rising in the same mountain range, cover more than 25 percent of the country's land area. Much of it is prime agricultural land.

The two parks are the cornerstone of the Dominican national park system, a vast network of more than 60 parks, reserves, refuges, and sanctuaries overseen by the seven-year-old Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources. The endemism of the mountain range in which they lie is astonishing: the Nature Conservancy reports that more than 90 percent of the amphibians and reptiles there exist nowhere else in the world. The same goes for half the area's butterflies, more than 40 percent of its plant species, and 35 percent of its birds.


Armando Bermudez and Jose del Carmen Ramirez are symbols of what can happen when things are done correctly. The government's commitment to the area is evident in the signage, easily accessed entrances, and well-staffed park ranger stations. This official air, in turn, means laws are followed and boundaries respected. It's amid this environment that the Cordillera Central has become a center for ecotourism in the Caribbean, with several outfits in Jarabacoa, Constanza, and other towns offering whitewater rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, and guided hikes up 3,087-meter Pico Duarte.

Off to...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT