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High-end lumber racket unearthed

Published:Thursday | January 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

THE POLICE have uncovered a scheme in which indigenous trees in one of the nation's forest reserves are being cut down and the lumber sold to high-end furniture market overseas for millions of dollars.

So far, no arrests have been made, but the police and the Forestry Department have seized some of the illegal lumber valued at more than $3 million and are on the trail of the alleged mastermind.

Eastern zonal director at the Forestry Department, Donna Lowe, described it as the "biggest haul we've ever had at any one time".

Lucrative market

She said the Forestry Depart-ment had information that there was a lucrative market for this type of lumber in Bermuda.

Persons found guilty of violating the Forest Act of 1996 can be fined up to $500,000 or serve a prison term of not more than two years.

Foresters and members of the the Island Special Constabulary Force's (ISCF) Agro and Environmental Enforcement Unit, acting on a tip, raided four premises in the hilly community of Westphalia, St Andrew, where the lumber was found.

The Forestry Department said the lumber was derived from the juniper tree, commonly called juniper cedar. That tree is quite rare and is indigenous to Jamaica.

Lowe told The Gleaner that the trees were cut down from the Cinchona section of the Blue Mountain Range.

High price

According to Lowe, the trees take approximately 40 years to mature and are mainly found in the eastern end of the island.

The wood is one of the most beautiful of the ornamental woods in Jamaica, with a reddish-brown colour, a fine and uniform texture and very fragrant, she explained.

Due to its aroma and insect-resistant qualities, the highly prized juniper fetches a high price on the export market - a fact that seems to be fuelling the illegal activity in Jamaica, the Forestry Department said in a release yesterday.

Conservator of Forests Marilyn Headley, in lauding the activities of the foresters and the ISCF, pointed out that the department remained resolute in its mission to conserve and preserve Jamaica's forest resources.

She noted that over the next two years the department would be beefing up its enforcement mechanism with the addition of some 50 new officers to man the forests islandwide.

Headley added that every effort would be made to bring offenders to book.