THE FELLING of trees from lands near to the world-famous Fern Gully rainforest has raised the ire of St. Ann residents and environmentalists over the likely adverse impact on this popular tourist attraction.
The Gleaner had reportedly earlier in the year about a logging operation in Fern Gully, a situation the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) described then as 'frightening and unacceptable'. During a visit to the area last week, the newspaper was again told that in addition to more trees being cut down and transported to Kingston as lumber on a weekly basis, the ferns were also being plucked and made into costumes by vendors in Fern Gully.
"Its a real tragedy what is happening in this supposedly protective area," said Ann-Marie Stuggart, an Ocho Rios resident. "The trees are being chopped down...the ferns are being destroyed... before long we won't even have a Fern Gully."
A man who gave his name as Robert Mitchell and who admitted to being in charge of the operation to transform the trees into lumber said what he was doing was neither illegal nor detrimental to Fern Gully. He also insisted that the land that the trees were being cut from was private property.
"My boss is the caretaker for this land and what we are doing here is not illegal," he said.
"This is private property and we are not breaking any laws. What you should be more worried about is the ferns that are being destroyed... that are being used to make these silly bird costumes to entertain tourists... that is more detrimental to Fern Gully."
Asked what is done with the lumber, Mr. Mitchell said, "They are taken to Kingston where mop sticks are made from them."
The NRCA said last week that it was unaware of the logging but would send its wardens to investigate.
Meanwhile, Michael Belnavis, a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillor and also the party's spokesman on the environment, said the commercial logging was a recipe for disaster. "It is the synthesis between the trees and the environment that causes rainfall and it is the rainfall that creates the rainforest. Without the rainforest there would be no ferns and of course without the ferns there would be no Fern Gully."
Raymond Brown, a resident of the area, said steps should be taken to halt the practice. "It doesn't matter whose land it is, this cannot continue," he said. "Our job is to protect and preserve areas such as Fern Gully and things like these cannot be allowed to continue."