You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Assessing Forest Sustainability on Islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific

Photo of Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin IslandsTrunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin IslandsSnapshot : Forests in the U.S. Caribbean and Pacific are relatively stable in terms of total area, but face a number of environmental and human-driven challenges to sustainability. A team of Forest Service scientists and managers developed a comprehensive assessment of island forests based on ecological, economic, and social criteria, providing an important resource for decision- and policy-makers and other key stakeholders interested in forest sustainability in these regions

Principal Investigators(s) :
Robertson, GuyFriday, Kathleen
McGinley, KathleenCarpenter, Connie
Research Location : U.S. and U.S Affiliated Caribbean and Pacific
Research Station : International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF)
Year : 2018
Highlight ID : 1525


Forests are vital to island communities throughout the Caribbean and Pacific. They protect critical water resources, harbor high levels of endemic species and biodiversity, and provide important socioeconomic and cultural resources, among many other values and benefits. A holistic understanding of these forests in terms of ecological, economic, and social elements is important for their sustainable use and protection, but was generally absent for most islands in and politically affiliated with the U.S. To address this gap and as part of broader national efforts to measure, monitor, and report on forest sustainability, a team of Forest Service scientists and managers developed a comprehensive assessment of forest status and trends in nine island jurisdictions, including from East to West, U.S. Territory of the Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, State of Hawaii, Territory of American Guam, Republic of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Territory of Guam, and Republic of Palau. The research team used the Montréal Process Criteria and Indicators, an internationally agreed upon set of sustainability measures, to collect and organize related data. Findings show that forests on most of these islands are not experiencing broad-scale deforestation at present, and that forest area is stable in most jurisdictions. However, forests in the Caribbean and in the Pacific are facing multiple threats from environmental and human stressors. With a total of 760 plant and animal species at risk of extinction as determined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the threat of native biodiversity loss, particularly in the Pacific, is the biggest warning flag regarding forest sustainability. In the Caribbean, where past agricultural practices resulted in broad-scale deforestation and where the islands are relatively closer to each other and to the mainland than islands in the Pacific, new assemblages of forest species are evolving, some including novel mixes of native and nonnative species. On the socioeconomic front, commodity wood production plays a very limited if any role in most island economies, but forests provide numerous other social and economic benefits to local populations, the importance of which are often heightened by long established human-nature relationships that are reinforced by island geography. Institutionally, many of the islands face considerable challenges managing their forests, often associated with limited resources and economies of scale. Although numerous gaps and weaknesses in sustainability-related data collection and monitoring were detected, there also are several promising developments, including expanded efforts by the federal Forest Inventory and Analysis program. Support for ongoing collaboration on forest sustainability between island entities through durable federal and regional programs is recommended

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • USFS State & Private Forestry