Trinidad & Tobago — John Radgman, project director of the Northern Range Reafforestation Project, says stronger legislation is needed to prevent bushfires and catch offenders. The project is run by the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources and falls under the National Reafforestation and Watershed Protection Unit (NRWP). To date, Radgman said there have been 400 fires.
Radgman said: We have the Agricultural Fires Act (Chapter 63:02). It works, but it could do with a revision. It talks about impersonating fire officers and planting crops on fired lands. But I would like to see harsher penalties for arsonists. It is a criminal charge if you are caught. The law should be tougher on people who set fires.
We need to improve the detection rate. We need to do better but its difficult to find people who are setting fires. When you see smoke on the hills, its difficult to catch someone. Penalties also need to be harsher to deter people from setting fires. Radgman felt squatters and subsistence farmers should also be held accountable.
He said, We need to put the responsibility on people planting gardens. I would like to see people refrain from lighting fires to burn private lands because it could get out of hand. Squatters are clearing lands and they are going to set fires. Whatever you do, it affects other aspects of the environment. It has to be preserved for generations.
Jaramogi: More resources to fight fires
Akilah Jaramogi, who has been spearheading the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project, St Anns, has reported tremendous success over the NGOs 30-year existence. It started in 1982 and became established in 2000.
She said: The Forestry Authority would help curb high levels of forest fires. More resources are needed to ensure groups involved in the community Forestry Best Practices around Forest Fire Prevention Week get a fair share. Laws governing forest fires are already in place. But enforcing these laws poses a challenge. Since 1997 we have been fire-free due to intervention of Gayap and other events.
We need to properly define forest fires laws. Stakeholders like the Forestry Division need to work together with the EMA and fire services to prosecute people who break environmental laws. Public awareness is needed in areas where forest fires are occurring yearly.
Targeting private landowners
Ramona Ramdial, junior Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, says about 120 more forest rangers have been deployed to combat bushfires. The Division of National Reafforestation and the Forestry Division have also embarked upon an awareness programme which targets private landownersespecially those in the northern Central Range.
Ramdial said: We had a meeting with private landowners and are having discussions and trying to raise the educational awareness and its consequences. A lot of the forest fires are caused by private landowners especially in the Northern Range. Most of the bushfires along the Central areas would have emanated from private areas. Fire would have spread after a couple of hours. The forest rangers are on the ground to ensure the fires dont get out of control.
She said, We have a lot of marijuana planters. When they are clearing the land, conflagrations occur. We have increased the number of forest rangers by about 120 in order to man these vulnerable areas, especially during the dry season. We have had forest rangers fire tracing. This is a clearing that is made to prevent the fire from jumping from one area to another.
She said the ministry was working in conjunction with the Ministry of National Security. You have the fire services dealing with those along the flat land and southern areas and the bambi buckets for the Northern Range and hilly and mountainous areas. On about five occasions, they have put out fires. They hold 200 gallons of water and, therefore, it is adequate to stop a raging fire. They utilise Forestry and Air Guard services.
Ramdial said, The Forestry Act is an old act. However, it governs all that falls under forestry in T&T. And one of those components is protecting the environment. And as you know the forest reserves are protected. I dont know about the legislation and the act in detail but I can say it is an old piece of legislation that needs to be revamped.
Penalty under Chapter 63:02
A person who is guilty of an offence under the Agricultural Fires Act is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $1,500 and imprisonment for six months and expenses incurred by country fire control officer in controlling or extinguishing any fire caused by or resulting from the disobedience, refusal or neglect of such person shall be recoverable summarily by the county control fire officer as a civil debt.