Forest Research Sometimes Comes To Naught

On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
   Chronicles of a FootlooseForester
By Dick Pellek


 Forest Research Sometimes Comes To Naught

After getting a small grant to research a few selected teak plantations in Central America, compliments of the Organization for Tropical Studies, the Footloose Forester chose Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras.  The decision was partly based on the approximate, known age of the plantations, and their rainfall regimes.  Some scientists and laymen believe that if teak (Tectona grandis L.) does well in the 25-30 inch rainfall regimes of West Africa where it had been tried in experimental plantations as an exotic species, it should do even better where there is more rainfall.  He had some idea what to expect, based on his research readings about teak in other tropical countries.



healthy teak plantation

The subject matter may not seem important to most people but it is, and has been, a fundamental concern when forest products industries in decades past have wanted to diversify their resource bases.  In principle, an exotic species from one tropical country is planted on an experimental basis in another tropical country to see if the slightly different climates and soils of the host country can support a potentially valuable addition to its forest resources.  As an example, Monterrey Pine (Pinus radiata) and native to California has been very important for many decades in plantation forests of Australia, New Zealand, Chile and elsewhere. It is not an important commercial species in its native California, and never has been.  So trying exotic species makes a certain amount of sense.  As another example, in the Agroforestry Outreach Project in Haiti during the 1980s, over 100 species not native to Haitian forests were grown in nurseries and then outplanted on villagers’ land. One species, Leucaena leucocephalla soon became the dominant tree in local plantations and later saturated the market for poles and posts. It is likely that Leucaena will henceforth become one of the major species there, because of its overall utility and fast growth. 

Some research, however, comes to naught. Apparently, that was the case in regard to planting teak in the Western Hemisphere.  Nothing about Honduras; or Panama; or Costa Rica and their teak plantations stand out, in retrospect, in the annals of forest research. That is not to say that teak is not adapted to Central America. It is.  In recent years there have been several other experimental plantings of teak in Central America but not large enough or important enough to make a splash in the market for tropical timbers.  There simply has not been the emphasis on forest industries and needed investment to make a difference in Honduras and elsewhere, unlike the continued attention to plantations of exotic Eucalyptus in many countries of Africa; or more than 150 years of continued commitment to planting teak in Trinidad.  The exotic teak, imported from India and Burma in 1888, is now the dominant tree species in all of Trinidad.

Joseph Thomas Perkins
Kowulka - Final

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