TT’s forests on fire

TT’sforests on fire

3 June 2007

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Trinidad and Tobago– Slash and burn farming and other reckless activitiescaused most of the major forest fires which occurred during the recent dryseason. The result, according to local environmentalists, was fast depletion andserious degradation of Trinidad and Tobago’s natural resource.

This has reversed gains made over several years by local NGOs and personnelon numerous Government-funded programmes, who had successfully protected andguarded state forests, conserving TT’s rich bio-diversity and wildlife habitatand food chains.

According to officials from the National Reforestation and WatershedRehabilitation Programme and Protectors of the Environment, this year’s dryseason was very busy. Programme co-ordinator of the National ReforestationProgramme, Dr Paschall Osuji, and forest officer, Raynaldo Phillips, said therewere several “hot spots” where raging forest fires destroyed acres of lands.These included the Diego Martin hills, Maracas Valley and Maitaugual.

“There are 57 groups from Carenage to Gran Rivere, Guayaguayare, San Fernandoand Cedros who focus on fire prevention and fire suppression. These things areparticularly important in areas where we have control,” Phillips explained.

“These groups have been trained and they have been given forest fire tools,which include the fire rake, the back pack water pump and the fire beater tofight these fires. The key to suppressing these fires is to get rid of anelement that starts it — heat, fuel and oxygen.

“The fire rake is used to get rid of the fuel element where the dry leaves andthe branches are removed, the back pack water pump obviously reduces the heatand the fire beater is used to cut off the air supply for the fire,” heexplained.

According to Dr Osuji, one dangerous fire destroyed seedlings planted in thereforestation project last year.

“A fire that took place earlier this year in Tucker Valley was started bysomeone who deliberately set a number of fires in different places and burntapproximately 70 acres. The wind blew it right around that mountain which madeit difficult for us to contain it,” he said.

After a fire burns there is usually a mop-up exercise where the burn site isvisited.

“We do that to ensure that the fire is completely suppressed because, althoughthe fire is done, it does not mean it cannot start again because there are stilla lot of burning logs and dry leaves around,” he said.

When asked when replanting would begin, Dr Osuji said: “During the month ofJune we will be looking at the lands and preparing them so that they can beready for the new seedlings.”

Working hand in hand with this programme, is the Protectors of the Environment(POE) with their primary aim being the protecting and preserving the environment.

Head of POE, Peter “Barry” Rampersad, took Sunday’s Newsday on a tour ofthe Lopinot forest to show the effects and ecological damage of the recentfires. He showed the destruction caused by a farmer who used the slash and burnmethod to prepare land for the planting of crops.

“Because of this farmer’s careless behaviour this part of the mountain hasbeen left blackened and bare. This has stripped our critical watershed ofvegetable cover,” Rampersad said.

Although the rainy season has begun, logs could still be seen burning on thehillsides, threatening to start another fire.

“The rain has somewhat dampened the forest floor but looking underneath it youcan still see dry leaves, so even though rain has fallen, a serious fire couldoccur,” he explained.

Rampersad pointed to scores of towering pine trees that had been horribly burntin a fire he and members of his team fought from five am till midnight.

“It was a big fire and we suppressed it as much as we could to save thembecause some of these trees have been here for so many years,” he said.

According to Rampersad, members of POE have fought approximately 60 fires in theLopinot Valley.

“Approximately 938 acres of land have been destroyed in areas such asGuadeloupe Valley, La Resource and Cabargrand hills,” he said.

He called for strict enforcement of the relevant laws: “The laws should beamended from a minor to a major offence. Stiffer penalties need to be put inplace and they should also change the requirement to apprehend the culprit inthe act of lighting the fire.”

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