New legislation being pursued to combat forest crimes
The Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change will be moving to improve laws to combat forest crimes, which include illegally harvesting wood and non-timber forest products from woodlands.
Some 335,915 hectares of Jamaica's land mass has been classified as forests, but the country loses approximately 350 hectares every year.
A Green Paper on the forest policy for Jamaica says the Forestry Department will address the issue through revised legislation and technology to improve the agency's enforcement capabilities. Currently, penalties for infringement of the Forest Act 1996 range from fines of between $100,000 and $500,000 or two years' imprisonment if the fines are not paid.
The Forestry Department plans to work with the National Environment and Planning Agency, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the judicial system and the Ministry of Justice to address forest crimes which occur across a spectrum of activities involving forest harvesting, transportation, processing and sale.
Measures to improve compliance will also include a strategy for increasing the capacity of the Forestry Department to ensure increased patrolling and enforcement, the Green Paper said.
The Department is also aiming to complement those activities with monitoring through satellite imagery.
The Green Paper emphasised that the Department is looking at the development of a strong system for monitoring timber trade and transportation domestically, as well as higher penalties for illegal logging activities. The government is also aiming to give the court the power to award damages for restoration of lost ecological resources.
Under the Forest Act 1996, violators may be fined for, among other things, uprooting, burning, damaging or cutting trees in a forest reserve without a valid permit.
It is also an offence to remove soil, gravel or sand from reserved areas and to kill, wound or capture a wild animal or bird in those areas.
The Act also prohibits setting up structures, removing forest produce, carrying a firearm, or allowing cattle to graze or trespass on forest reserves.
The Forestry Department said it would also pursue public awareness building alongside new enforcement and compliance measures.