Trinidad and Tobago — With all indications that we are in for a harsh dry season, we have the usual discussions on TV and in the press voicing the intentions, and concerns for our precious forests, water sources and wild life. Am I being cynical to assume that it is the annual old talk?
The water buckets weren’t we given water buckets by the Canadians ten, 20 years ago? They’ve never been used. Why are they being mentioned again?
Nothing seems to change. Most members of the public don’t even know they are breaking the law by lighting a fire without a permit at this time of the year. God protect anyone from the barrage of verbal abuse they will receive if they have the temerity to confront the backyard burner who is guaranteed to start lighting up the minute the skies clear, the winds pick up and the undergrowth turns to ready tinder.
If implemented, these simple initiatives could make a huge difference:
Officers from the Forestry Division, the EMA and/or the Ministry for the Environment could drive through vulnerable areas with loudspeakers informing the public of the laws of the land and possible penalties? That requires very little outlay.
Why can’t a handful of fire wardens, with trail bikes to enable access to high risk populated hillside areas, go directly to the source of many of the big fires those backyards and garden plotsas soon as they see the smoke rising?
They can be spotted easily from miles away. These wardens should have authority to insist the offender put out the fire, issue a warning and inform him of the law. Year after year, I have watched with frustration and despair as the wind pulls a small domestic fire up into the surrounding hills, destroying acres of forest.
And what about those young people, (was it the Citizens Conservation Corps?) in the late 90s, who were paid to go up into the hills and put out the fires that the Fire Services could not reach? They were strong and enthusiastic.
The flash floods in Diego Martin and the Maraval area were the direct result of a relentless dry season that allowed large areas of previously mature forest to burn. They have caused trauma, desperation and loss and cost the public purse millions. It is essential that we do more to prevent the spread of small domestic fires and are able to tackle the larger more inaccessible ones. It takes a minimum of another 25 fire-free years for our forests and all they give us to heal.