Status and Trends of Biodiversity
In spite of severe environmental degradation problems, Haiti has, together with the Dominican Republic, the second most diverse flora in the Caribbean, after Cuba. Floristic studies among the vascular plants invariably reveal new species, particularly in biological rich areas. According to a floristic study conducted by the University of Florida in the 1980s and 1990s, an inventory of orchids in the Macaya National Park (in the Southern Peninsula) revealed that a third of 134 species were not described at the time of their collection. The total orchid flora, occupying less than 10 km2, represent roughly 40% of the three hundred fifty orchid species known to exist on Hispaniola island (Dod, 1993; Hespenheide & Dod, 1993). Scientists who conducted inventories of Haiti’s flora did not reach a consensus on existing vascular plant species. The number of those published in the literature ranges from 4,685 (WRI, 1998) to 5,242 (IUCN, 1997). The dated treatment of the Flore d’Haiti (Barker and Dardeau, 1931) suggests that over 5,365 vascular plant species are found in Haiti. It has been estimated that among these plants, 37% are endemic comprising approximately 300 species of Rubiaceae, 300 species of Orchidaceae, 330 species of Asteraceae, 300 Graminae and three species of Conifers (Pinus occidentalis, Juniper juniperus, Juniperus ekmanii). Overall, the Haitian landscape hosts, according to the Holdridge classification based on climate factors, a total of nine zones which supports the diversity of forest formations. The country boasts a rich fauna as well, with more than 2000 species of vertebrates of which 75% are considered endemic. The mainland and satellite islands reflect a high degree of endemism. A biological inventory of one offshore island, Navassa island (7 km2), found more than 800 species, many of which may do not exist anywhere else in the world, and as many as 250 that might be entirely new to science (Center for Marine Conservation, 1999).
Number and Extent of Protected Areas
Protected areas, as integral parts of the development process and basic tools for sustainable development were recently integrated in the development scheme of Haiti even if from an historical perspective establishment of protected areas was pronounced during the 1920’s. Officially, the Haitian Government has identified a total of 35 protected areas covering about 6% of the national territory. However, the percentage of effective protected areas is evaluated at no more than 0.3% of the overall surface of the country. With the latter statistic in mind, the Haitian Republic stands far behind other Caribbean countries (IUCN 1994), namely Jamaica (8.2%), the Bahamas (8.9%), Cuba (14.3%), the Dominican Republic (21.7%), Turk and Caicos (39.7%) and Martinique (66.3%).
Percentage of Forest Cover
Haiti’s endowment of forest resources has been treated as a free good and exploited to capitalize economic development since colonial times. Europeans cleared mountain forests to establish coffee plantations and used clean-tilling agricultural practices that promoted soil erosion. European colonists and then, later, Haitian governments harvested and exported timber (chiefly mahogany, ironwood and logwood) to earn hard currency. Haiti’s peasants, especially the land-poor, have historically cleared forest to expand agriculture. Peasants also exploit forest stocks in time of economic insecurity or to finance unexpected contingencies. In several situations, the unsustainable exploitation of trees or forest is the only remaining income-generating option available to peasants. In fact, forests (or former forest lands) are everything to the Haitian peasant: space to grow annual crops, engage in animal husbandry, extract useful products, and a last ditch store of capitol. From a forest cover of 90% in pre-Columbian times and 60% in 1923, Haiti now has a true forest cover of only 1.5% of its land area (Ministry of Planning, 2002). In 1990, only 600 km2 were under dense forest cover, which represented only 4% of what should be forested, or 2.2 percent of the lead area. Today only 338 km2 are under dense forest cover (1.0% (UTSIG 2004)). Twenty percent, of the land area is under sylvopastoral conditions (grazed brush land and savanna), which is being constantly degraded due to overgrazing and charcoal cutting (FAO, 1987).