Deforestation in the Dominican Republic has been a critical concern for the last 25 years or so. By leaving soil exposed to the direct impact of rain, the major effect of deforestation is soil erosion which, in turn, has caused silting of water bodies and reservoirs, adversely affecting water availability and quality. In addition, the loss of natural habitats of plant and animal species caused by deforestation can compromise the country’s rich biodiversity.
Forest extent is not systematically monitored in the Dominican Republic, but some countrywide assessments have been conducted occasionally, particularly in the last decade. The latest figures on the Dominican Republic’s forest cover come from both a 2012 countrywide study  based on Landsat data that evaluated land use and land cover as of 1996, 2003, and 2012; and the 2021 National Forest Inventory , which estimated forest extent as of 2015. Forests were estimated to cover a total of 1,892,346 ha (39.2% of the country’s area) in 2012, and 1,814,503 ha (43.5%) in 2015.
Four major forest types have been recognized in the Dominican Republic , . Coniferous forests almost entirely dominated by the endemic Pinus occidentalis covered 331,557 ha (17.5% of the country’s area) in 2012. Broad-leaved forests are the most extensive forest type, covering 1,046,146 ha (21.7% of country as of 2012) in mountainous and coastal areas. Broad-leaved forests comprise three subtypes: humid, semi-humid and cloud broad-leaved forests. Dry forests, most of them secondary forests that have regrown/regenerated after timber logging or some other disturbance, covered 483,531 ha (10.03% of the country) in 2012. Wetland forests covered 31,112 ha in 2012, comprised of mangroves (29,316 ha) and freshwater wetland forests or drago forests (1,796 ha). Drago (Pterocarpus officinalis) forests are riparian forests restricted to the lower part of the Yuna watershed; it is the forest type with the smallest coverage in the Dominican Republic.
Raw deforestation has been estimated  at 620 ha/yr between 1990 and 2000, 250 ha/yr between 2000 and 2010, and 18,490 ha/yr between 2010 and 2015. A study aimed at setting the country’s forest reference emission levels  estimated raw deforestation of 133,563 ha (13,302 ha/yr) in broad-leaved forests between 2006 and 2015, and 38,989 ha (3,899 ha/yr) in each of dry and coniferous forests over the same period. Particularly worrisome losses have been experienced by cloud broad-leaved forests (one of the country’s most biodiversity-rich ecosystems), some 69,900 ha of which are estimated to have been lost between 2003 and 2012 to leave only 87,028 ha remaining in 2012; and drago forests, which lost 2,684 ha of its already very small range between 1996 and 2012.
Those losses, however, have been more than offset — at least in quantitative terms — by natural forest regeneration and, above all, reforestation to yield a net increase in overall forest cover over time. Estimated total forest cover increased from 1,326,606 ha in 1996 to 1,585,259 ha in 2003, to 1,892,346 ha in 2012, and 1,814,503 ha in 2015. In particular, the coverage of humid and semi-humid broad-leaved forests increased in 84% between 1996 (when these forests covered 520,140 ha) and 2012 (959,118 ha), and that of dry forests increased from 367,739 ha to 483,531 ha over the same period. This impressive increase in forest coverage has been mostly the result of the intensive reforestation programmes implemented by the Dominican government rather than of regeneration or recovery of natural forests. In fact, the total extent of agricultural land (including permanent, commercial, and subsistence annual crops) decreased from 2,311,589 ha in 1996 to 1,695,901 ha in 2012.
Intense deforestation in the Dominican Republic began during the colonial period and has continued until recently driven by various pressures at different points in time, including timber overexploitation, the clearing of land to plant cash crops (sugar cane and cocoa) or to devote the land to livestock ranching, extraction of firewood to support the sugar industry, etc .
Nowadays, the main cause of deforestation in the Dominican Republic has been consistently identified as the clearing of forested lands for livestock ranching and the expansion of agriculture.
First, the 2012 countrywide study  that evaluated land use and land cover as of 1996, 2003, and 2012 showed that the extent of pastureland increased from 263,564 ha in 1996 to 382,530 in 2003, and to 724,123 ha in 2012.
The study aimed at setting the country’s forest reference emission levels  identified the conversion of secondary forests to pasturelands as the main direct cause of deforestation , being responsible for the loss of approximately 148,000 ha of forest over the period 2006-2015. Approximately 32,000 ha of secondary forests were converted to broadleaf shrubland (secondary vegetation that develops after nomad agriculture) over that period, 18,000 ha of secondary broadleaf forests were turned into agriculture, and approximately 38,000 ha of dry forests were converted to pastureland.
Finally, an analysis of the proximal causes and drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in the country  identified the expansion of the agricultural (mainly slash-and-burn agriculture and extensive livestock ranching) frontier as responsible for about 55% of forest losses. Unsustainable timber extraction, production of firewood and charcoal, and extraction of forest products accounted for 26% of the losses. Forest fires accounted for an additional 7%. Most forest fires have an anthropogenic intentional or incidental origin, including fire intentionally used to clear the land in slash-and-burn agriculture; fires used as part of farming practices that burn out of control and spread into the forest; neglected camp fires; power lines that fell upon trees, etc. Other causes such as the construction and expansion of infrastructure (e.g., roads and highways, poorly planned tourism infrastructure and human settlements, etc.), and forest pests and diseases accounted for the remaining 12% of overall deforestation.
The main factors underlying these processes  include population growth, poverty and inequality, uncertainty in land tenure (particularly among small-holder peasants), the characteristically mountainous topographic conditions of the country, conflicting conservation and economic development policies, and the undervaluation of forest ecosystems and their services.
Key policies and governance approach
The Dominican Republic's policy and regulatory framework on forests is mainly focused on forestry and timber production, rather than conservation. It includes the 1985 act on forestry, the 1988 act on forestry development, and the 1999 act that created the country’s forest code.
Nevertheless, a number of actions have been undertaken over the last 25 years or so to counteract deforestation and protect natural forests and, more recently, to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.
First, a significant fraction of the remaining natural forests is included in protected areas , . All the remaining (as of 2013) cloud broad-leaved and drago forests, 75% of the dense coniferous forests, 22% of humid and semi-humid broad-leaved forests, and 57% of mangroves are included in various protected areas.
Second, although forest plantations have been established in the country for the last 30 years, it was in 1997 when reforestation became a State policy and the Dominican government launched the long-term Quisqueya Verde National Plan , . The Quisqueya Verde Plan is a social and environmental investment project implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The project was launched in March 1997 with the goal of counteracting the accelerated deterioration of natural resources and alleviating extreme poverty in rural zones, by involving people in the reforestation and recovery of natural areas. The Quisqueya Verde Plan began operating in 26 areas across the country, targeting degraded and deforested areas in the main watersheds of the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Norte mountain ranges. From 1997 to 2016, over 150 million trees were planted, over a 123,622 ha area.
The Dominican Republic has been actively working on the development and implementation of a national REDD+ strategy with support from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), since 2009 , . Formulation of and consultations for the national REDD+ strategy began in 2009. The draft strategy was the basis for the REDD Preparation Plan submitted to the FCPF in 2012. REDD+ preparation activities began in 2015. In addition, formulation of an Emissions Reduction Programme began in 2016. The analysis of the causes and drivers of deforestation and forest degradation was completed in 2018 , estimation of the forest reference emission level was completed in 2020 , and a full National Forest Inventory in 2021.
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
Reforestation — particularly through the Quisqueya Verde Plan — has been widely successful as judged in terms of the increase in forest cover. It has been pointed out, however, that forest plantations do not automatically translate into restoration of natural forests, their biodiversity, and ecosystem services. Nevertheless, the beneficial impact of this extensive, long-term, countrywide reforestation programme on soil conservation and reduction of soil erosion should be acknowledged.
Despite the achievements, the underlying factors — such as uncertainty in land tenure among small-holder peasants, conflicting conservation and economic development policies, and the undervaluation of forest ecosystems — that put pressure on forests and cause deforestation have not been sufficiently addressed.
Initiatives and Development Plans
The major initiatives currently being developed are the preparation and implementation of the National REDD+ Strategy and the Emissions Reduction Programme .
Goals and Ambitions
The Plan DECCC  envisions reducing deforestation in order to reduce GHG emissions in 7 Mt CO2e by 2030.
The fourth strategic axis of the National Development Strategy 2030  envisions, among other goals, reducing deforestation so that total forest cover increases 0.7% with respect to its baseline value in 2005.
The study of the proximal causes and drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in the Dominican Republic  also identified several priority lines of action to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. These include:
- Halting or regulating the expansion of the agricultural, livestock ranching, and infrastructure frontier.
- Strengthening forest fire prevention and management.
- Sustainable management of natural resources.
- Strengthening and improving plant health protection measures in native vegetation.
- Risk mitigation in natural disasters, among others.
Creating or further developing the relevant policy, regulatory, and institutional framework is a necessary first step for the successful implementation of such measures. Then, financing the investments needed for on-the-field implementation will be challenging, given the little contribution that the forest sector (apparently) makes to the country’s economy.
 Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales. 2018. Análisis de las Causas Directas e Indirectas (Drivers) de Deforestación y Degradación de los Bosques (DD) en República Dominicana y Propuestas de Alternativas de Uso Sostenible del Suelo que Disminuyen la DD y Aumentan los Reservorios de Carbono del Proyecto Preparación para REDD+. Banco Mundial/ Fondo Cooperativo para el Carbono de los Bosques.