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 The Forest of ESNACIFOR

Mike's Profile

    The Forest of ESNACIFOR

    Mike Disney

The National School of Forest Sciences in Honduras, also known as ESNACIFOR (Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Forestales), manages a 5,550 Ha. pine forest (Pinus oocarpa). The school uses the forest to both educate its students in the methods and techniques of modern day forestry management and to make money to help fund the school and keep it running.

The forest is divided into seven individual sectors that contain independent management strategies in each sector.  Within these seven sectors there are a total of 172 stands.  The forest is distinguishable by its natural boundaries, which include rivers, gullies, ridges, and fire breaks.  Thirty-one percent of the forested area is at more than a forty-five percent slope.  The increased slope presents problems to the foresters when trying to transport felled trees.  Applied techniques of log transport include a skyline, oxen, and human manpower with only the terrain dictating which technique can be used and where.

The terrain doesn't determine where trees can grow though because even in the most sloped sections of the forest there is an average 1,200 trees planted per hectare. The management plan for the forest consists of producing mature trees for harvesting by completing three thinnings of less desirable trees around those which are left to mature.  The main criteria to allow the selected tree to grow is to eliminate other trees that compete for crown space. Limited crown space does not allow enough sunlight to reach the tree and this slows growth. The first thinning is three to four years after the trees areplanted to reduce tree density and provide more room for growth to the trees left standing. Another thinning occurs after four or five more years to further decrease the tree density and create even more room for healthy growth.  The final thinning occurs five to six years later and the remaining 200 to 250 trees will be allowed to grow another twenty-six years until being harvested.  Final selection used to occur after forty-six years of growth but with the new management plan it only takes harvestable trees forty years to reach maturity.

 ESNACIFOR has tried to teach private landowners that thinning is needed in managing timber but private landowners lack the resource of time.  It takes time for trees to grow to large sizes and private landowners need money now.  Another draw back on thinning is the viewpoint of private landowners.  They believe every tree they cut down could bring in a few more dollars profit. Private landowners believe a short term gain of a few more dollars for every tree adds up. As a result, virtually no thinning occurs, even after ESNACIFOR proves the incredible increase in profit is due to more volume, not numbers of trees, in areas where thinning has occurred. 

In order to successfully manage timber a very large area must be used to ensure that trees will always be available for harvesting.  ESNACIFOR's biggest worry while conducting management practices in their forests is fire. Two towers stand above the trees in the forest to enable firewatchers to guard and catch first glimpse of a fire that could destroy the timber. Although fire is a major threat, only .06 hectares of forest have been lost this year.

Not all of the 5,500 Ha on the ESNACIFOR land is actually usable forest. 65% of the land in the forest is managed and logged.  32% of the land is protected areas that contain rivers and other types of wildlife. Some of the animals present are white tail deer, raccoons, eagles, hawks, coyotes, owls and white winged dove. The area is considered a white tail deer refuge so hunters wait outside the forest during the breeding season to shoot the deer in search of mates. Due to lack of personnel these areas are not managed for the wildlife that they possess and are left for nature to determine which animals will persist.  .02% of the land is used for agricultural purposes where ESNACIFOR grows corn and other crops.  16 square meters per Ha in the forest are roads, which make the land accessible to people that live outside the forest. The roads are difficult to manage though and many of them are over thirty years old.

On the perimeter of the forest there are eight small villages that create many social problems for ESNACIFOR.  The people in these villages harvest the timber from the forest and sell it for their own profit.  A government institution in Honduras has been giving the people in these villages titles to the land in the forest so many of these people believe that the land belongs to them. ESNACIFOR has hired a lawyer to protect its land and to end the distribution of titles to the forest. Other problems exist as well though.  People from areas all over Honduras will sneak onto the land and poach the oxen that the school uses to haul felled logs.  The meat is then sold to markets and ESNACIFOR is left with no means to transport logs except for the skyline and human manpower.  Log transportation is a factor in many ways for ESNACIFOR.  There are no paper mills in the area of the forest so all small logs from thinnings are used to make charcoal in half dome kilns that reach temperatures as high as 500-600 degrees inside.  In order to make the charcoal; workers watch the smoke as the wood burns.  Windows in the kilns allow smoke to escape and the smoke changes from black to blue and finally white when the wood is burned enough to create the charcoal.  Producing charcoal is a time consuming process though.  It takes one day to fill the kiln, one to burn the wood and three days to let the charcoal cool.  5 MikeTopiccubic meters of wood will make 1,000 pounds of charcoal.  Workers pack the charcoal into nine pound bags and sell it in the city for fifteen limpiras each.  Local Hondurans buy the charcoal to use in their barbecue cookers much like North Americans do.Charcoal sales are only a fraction of the money that the school makes from the forest.  A very technical crew works full time in the forest falling trees for production. Of the modern equipment that they use is a skyline which allows the crew to drag logs up the steep slopes that exist throughout the forest.  The skyline consists of a five horse power engine that pulls a cable through a pulley system allowing the log to be picked up off the ground.  As the cable is pulled the log is lifted up and dragged across the ground and up to an area to be loaded on a truck.  By allowing the log to keep contact with the ground the crew eliminates any side to side swaying the log may do if fully suspended off the ground.

The timber that the forest produces allows ESNACIFOR to be a self maintained school.  The wood produced is used to make the chairs, beds, desks, and shelves that the school uses in its dorms and classrooms.  ESNACIFOR is making full use of its renewable resource and will be able to provide opportunities to students for many years to come.