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Earth Today | Cockpit Country stakeholders bemoan wait for boundary decision

Published:Wednesday | July 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
A section of the Cockpit Country Reserve in Trelawny.
Hugh Dixon

STAKEHOLDERS who live and work inside the ecologically significant Cockpit Country are concerned over the continued wait for a finalised boundary decision for the area that should usher in its protection under law.

"It was a pleasure to hear, when it was said back in April, that a decision had been taken, and hopefully it is meant to protect Cockpit Country and its resources," Hugh Dixon, executive director for the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) told The Gleaner.

"Where I am a little let down is with the intention to go back and do another independent thing, which is clearly a case of tactical delay, and tactical delays are aimed at facilitating something that is potentially threatening to the main objective of protection," Dixon added.

Speaking to Parliament in April, Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Daryl Vaz revealed a "boundary has been accepted, save and except for a small section, which is environmentally sensitive".

"Cabinet has taken a decision to have an independent assessment done, taking into consideration the concerns of the various interest groups and stakeholders in relation to environmental protection and economic growth. The findings of this report will be examined by Cabinet in short order, given the time-sensitive nature of the matter. It is expected that the matter will be resolved very shortly," he added.

Near three months on, Minister Vaz now says: "The Cabinet is considering the submission and is conducting further consultations with technocrats prior to signing off on the recommendations."

Chair of the Local Forest Management Committee for Cockpit Country North Lorna Williams-Christie remains uncomfortable with the wait.

"It is like they are just keeping us at bay. Nothing is coming to let the people know definitely what is happening. Everybody is just a wait and see; there is nothing concrete for you to go on," she said.

"Even if you are to continue to do activities, you are not sure what areas to continue in, and some people might feel left out. We definitely need closure on the issue," added Williams-Christie.

Founding director at the Windsor Research Centre Mike Schwartz was equally critical.

"With the ongoing delay in deciding on the boundary, we do not understand how a further 'independent assessment', carried out behind closed doors, can be justified," he said.

"A comprehensive public consultation on defining the boundaries of the Cockpit Country" was carried out during 2013. The final report recommended a boundary, together with a core zone and a transition zone, and this is what the Government of Jamaica should be using as a basis for discussion," added Schwartz, whose centre does extensive research in the Cockpit Country and who has long been involved in advocacy for the area's conservation.




Dixon agreed it was past time for a final decision.

"This 'sensitive area' (in question) seems to suggest the northeast Cockpit Country, which is an area that has been clearly established by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) as having the most important and richest deposit of the Cockpit Country," Dixon speculated.

The JBI is one of at least six interest groups to field a proposed boundary for the area, which, according to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund's 2010 Ecosystem Profile for Caribbean Islands Biodiversity Hotspot, "supports the largest number of globally threatened species of any key biodiversity area in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot, with 59, including 11 amphibians and 40 plant species".

Cockpit Country is also the source of freshwater for 40 per cent of Jamaicans and "is essential in moderating the flow and preventing flooding of a number of western Jamaica's rivers".

The JBI boundary, meanwhile, takes in only Trelawny and would impact access to bauxite in the Cockpit Country the least, with losses estimated at US$0.30 billion or 10 million tonnes, according to a government document obtained by The Gleaner some years ago.




The other options include the Cockpit Country Stakeholders' Group boundary, which takes in the largest area St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, and Trelawny and would deny access to some 300 million tons of bauxite or US$9 billion.

Other proposed boundaries include:

- the Ring Road boundary (150 million tons or US$4.5-billion in loss);

- the Sweeting/University of the West Indies (UWI) boundary (US$4.2 billion or 140 million tons in loss);

- the Maroon boundary (US$3 billion or 100 million tons in loss); and

- the Forestry Reserve boundary (US$450 million or 15 million tons in loss).

Dixon has suggested that Minister Vaz disclose the 'environmentally sensitive' area in question and have stakeholder input.

"I would hope that the minister could proceed to indicate the nature of the sensitivity and that it can be deliberated for a mutually beneficial course rather than cause it to be the subject of delay and procrastination," he said.