My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Why Jamaica Forestry Department's Forest Act needs updating with bigger fines and Drones

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Why Jamaica Forestry Department's Forest Act needs updating with bigger fines and Drones

“We are fettered to the extent that the courts cannot go beyond what the act says. So although the market value of the items far exceeds the maximum penalty, under the Forest Act, the resident magistrate in this particular case cannot go beyond what the legislation says”

Enforcement Manager in the Legal and Enforcement Division Damart Williams in an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner about illegal logging in Jamaica's Forests

Trees are important to Jamaica not only for wood but also for holding the topsoil in place as well as purifying the air as explained in my blog article entitled “Jamaican Drought, Trees and Air Quality - Why Jamaican Apartment dwellers are developing Respiratory Ailments”.

So it's comes as a surprise that the Jamaica Forestry Department is having to contend with archaic laws as reported in the article “Forestry fettered by fixed fines”, published Monday December 14, 2015, The Jamaica Gleaner.

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There seems to be a huge difference between the value of the wood and the fines meted out by the courts when persons are caught illegally cutting down trees of which Sandy-Lue Cole, legal officer with the Jamaica Forestry Department is aware, quote: “We do recognize it as a loophole and have had discussions to possibly have the fees revised to suit what is more pertaining to the current environment; in that, when we do seize lumber, often the fine does not match what the lumber values. So we have had discussions at the Forestry Department to possibly have our fines revised in the near future”.

This is a form of Praedial larceny, albeit of a different nature from stealing farm animals as the PLPU (Praedial Larceny Prevention Unit) responds to daily. However, like the forestry Department, the PLPU also faces a disparity in the law as it relates to fines as noted in my blog article entitled “How Farmers joining NAITS and help the PLPU achieve success as Bigger Fines needed”.

So how bad is it really? And can technology be deployed the Jamaica Forestry Department to help them catch the illegal logger in the act?

Jamaica Forestry Department and illegal Logging - Why the Forest Act needs upgrading to catch 21st Century Lumber thieves

The Jamaica Forestry Department, which has responsibility for all of Jamaica’s protected Forest Reserves, is moving to address this problem.

In fact the Minister of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill pointed out that the forests are the lungs the Earth to listeners at the St Matthew's Church Hall in Santa Cruz in early December 2015 as reported in the article “Pickersgill: Let's protect the 'lungs of the Earth'”, published Wednesday, December 02, 2015 BY Garfield Myers, The Jamaica Observer.

It’s clear that without adequate fines, Jamaicans will continue to cut down trees. An example of how low the fines are can be seen in the example of a recent seizure of  855 pieces of Blue Mahoe lumber which was value at JA$600,000.

This seizure occurred in Fergis Ramsay Forest Reserve, St Ann and was conducted by forest rangers and Jamaican police from the Moneague Police Station. They caught the men in the act of illegally cutting down trees from the protected forest. Not only that, they also caught the men with a power saw, containers of fuel and a makeshift bed inside a shed as evidence of their illegal activity.

As such, they were charged under Section 30 of the Forest Act (1996) and were each given JA$50,000 station bail. However, fines at the Claremont Resident Magistrate's Court were set at JA$500,000 in January 2015, JA$100,000 less than the value of the stolen property!

Additionally, the maximum fine is set at of two (2) years, meaning that they'll be out in less than a year, back to chopping wood, as clearly it's quite profitable if the fines are below the value of the item you're stealing.

A similar seizure in Lucky Valley Forest Estate in St Andrew involving some five hundred (500) pieces of Water Oak lumber saw the man caught in connection with the theft being released. That seizure was valued at JA$500,000, the exact fines as meted out by the Resident Magistrate’s court!

The use of Drones to patrol the forests is also an idea that can be used, seeing as it was in the pipeline for patrolling the Pedro Keys to catch Honduran fishermen in the act as noted in my blog article entitled “@agriministryja Poacher Spotting Drones – Ministry of National Security to Determine How Drones can Fly Farther”.

However, even for the implementation of Drones, the disparity between the market value of lumber seized and the fixed fines allowed needs to be addressed in the Forest Act (1996) in order to protect the remaining 40% of Forests that we have.

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