Tax breaks among proposals for new forest policy

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Environment Watch senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 27, 2012    

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IN an effort to encourage the protection of Jamaica's forests, the introduction of tax incentives for landowners is among the proposed changes to the new draft Forest Policy.

The new policy, along with the necessary legislative changes, are expected to be completed by yearend.

The draft document has been circulated to Government ministries and departments as well as other stakeholders, and is available for download on the Forestry Department's website.

Francine Black, public relations and corporate communications officer at the Forestry Department, said stakeholder groups and the wider public are invited to make submissions on the policy draft. She said the review should be completed this year.

The last review of the Forest Policy was completed in 2001, and is to be reviewed every 10 years, which means it is overdue for review.

According to Black, the draft policy is "a completely different document" than the outgoing policy from more than a decade ago.

On size alone, the new draft is much more detailed; it is 41 pages long compared to 14 pages for the old document.

Other changes proposed in the new policy are the Forestry Department's change of name to the National Forestry Agency, (NFA) to reflect its new status as an executive agency under the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change in 2010.

Under that classification, it continues to receive funding from Government, but will increasingly seek to identify its own income-generating streams over time.

The new draft also proposes that the ownership of Crown (Government) land be transferred to the NFA. The draft says the NFA does not own any land, but manages lands designated under the Forest Act as Forest Reserves, Forest Management Areas, and other areas not declared to date.

The ownership of Crown lands is vested in the Commissioner of Lands, who is required to consult the NFA prior to leasing land in a forest estate.

According to the draft, the forest lands should be transferred to the National Land Agency to ensure it will be able to achieve the goals under the policy and in accordance with its executive agency status.

The draft policy also proposes that forest classifications be streamlined as Forest Reserves or Forest Management Areas and details how forests should be used, for example, for highly regulated eco-tourism and recreational amenities; scientific research, conservation of mangroves and water resources, forest produce; timber, generation of non-timber forest products; and promotion of agro-forestry.

In addition, the draft calls for the NFA to establish a Forest Fund to be used for reforestation and forest conservation. The Forest Fund is to be overseen by a board of trustees drawn from the private sector and non-governmental organisations.

Another proposal is for the NFA to examine "options to develop enrolment systems to lower tax assessments for lands in urban and rural areas with standing forest".

The draft also calls for the "creation of a multi-agency task force to explore tax deductions or credits to lower the cost of planting trees, monitoring and management or instituting sustainable forestry practices on priority forested private lands".

The task force will review taxes, subsidies, zoning practices and fees that influence land use decisions and practices to remove forest cover.



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