Foresty fettered by fixed fines
A recent seizure of 855 pieces of Blue Mahoe lumber with a market value of $600,000, the second largest by the Forestry Department in recent times, has highlighted the inadequacy of the relevant legislation in terms of appropriate sanctions for breaches of the Forest Act.
With the case set for mention in the Claremont Resident Magistrate's Court in early January, the maximum fine is $500,000, some $100,000 less than the value of the illegally harvested lumber, and/or a maximum fine of two years.
"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," Damart Williams, enforcement manager in the Legal and Enforcement Division, shared with The Gleaner.
The seizure was made in the Fergis Ramsay Forest Reserve, St Ann, after forest rangers, accompanied by police from the Moneague Police Station, responded to reports of illegal cutting.
In addition to the lumber, they seized a power saw, containers of fuel and a makeshift bed inside a shed.
Two men arrested in connection with the illegal cutting of trees have been charged under Section 30 of the Forest Act (1996), and were each given $50,000 station bail.
Williams advised that this follows a recent seizure in the Lucky Valley Forest Estate in St Andrew, where more than 500 pieces of Water Oak lumber, valued at more than $110,000, were confiscated. A man who was questioned in connection with the crime was released.
However, the Forestry Department is collaborating with the Bull Bay police to find and arrest the culprits.
Meanwhile, Sandy-Lue Cole, legal officer with the Forestry Department, told The Gleaner that the department was aware of, and concerned about, the disparity between the market value of lumber seized and the fixed fines allowed, a situation it is moving to address.
"We do recognise 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."