Coal burners VS bird shooters

BY ALDANE WALTERS Observer writer editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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COAL burners in St Catherine are crying 'fowl' over public perception that they are the main group responsible for destruction of forests in the parish.


The group, which met last week with representatives of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (CCAM) in Hill Run, just outside of Spanish Town, was adamant that it is not coal burners, but bird shooters who are responsible for illegally and indiscriminately clearing forest cover in the area.


"Bird shooters 'buck dung' di tree dem wid tractor an' build shooting range," said one man in the all-male group. They all requested that their names not be used.


The men said that they want the condemnation of their trade to stop, as they are in fact using sustainable methods to cut the trees - the main inputs in the coal-burning practice.


"We have a way fi cut di forest that it grow back," another man said.


"Think bout it, if wi destroy the forest, how wi get tree fi burn coal?" he asked rhetorically.


Claiming that the methods used by bird shooters are less sustainable, the man added: "When dem (bird-shooters) 'buck' it dung wid tractor, it don't grow back."


However, vice-president of the Jamaica Skeet Club, Leighton Sasco, flatly dismissed the coal burners' claims as "absolute rubbish," when the Jamaica Observer told him of the allegations.


"They are the ones destroying the trees. The bird-shooting people want the trees because that is where the birds go and rest, " said Sasco.


Sasco said the issue of coal burners destroying the forests is a long-standing one which he had been wanting to report to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).


"Its a thing that I had wanted to bring up to NEPA because they (coal burners) are actually destroying the country, because we get less rain etc," he noted.


While acknowledging that there are instances in which bird shooters may clear an area of trees and shrubbery, Sasco says that blaming bird shooters for destroying forests is not only unfair, but nonsensical.


"That is the furthest from the truth. It would be counter-productive to us," he maintained.


In addition to facilitating livelihoods and leisure for some, trees are of vital ecological importance. One of their main functions is providing oxygen, which is essential for human life, as well as causing rainfall through the process of transpiration. And, as Sasco suggested, it is very important that Jamaica preserve all rainfall-causing resources, as the country suffers severe dry spells yearly.


Friday's meeting was part of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund project by CCAM to develop sub-area plans for the Hellshire Hills and Portland Ridge areas of the Portland Bight Protected Area. The intention was to air the grouses of the coal-burners, as the foundation seeks to get all the stakeholders - coal burners, wood cutters, hunters and others - involved in the planning and management process with a view to creating a formalised group.


Community Development Officer for the Hellshire Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) Sharlene Rowe found the meeting successful.


"I expected a bigger turnout, but it was good, " she said, noting that it was very important that all the major stake-holders be involved.


"We are trying to develop a forest users council so that each of the various groups of people that use the forest can be represented," she said.


Rowe said CCAM is encouraging the group to become formalised, as this will facilitate, among other things, more access to funds and help being offered by government and other organisations.


The coal burners were also encouraged to consider alternative forms of livelihood, such as agriculture.


According to the Forestry Department, the island loses approximately 400 hectares of forest cover each year. In an effort to stem that tide and conserve forests and indigenous species, the department declares some areas forest reserves and protected areas, in which it is illegal to cut down a tree.


  


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