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Preserve forest cover, get property tax relief

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Observer staff reporter richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, March 19, 2014    

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IN an effort to stave off further deforestation, Government is encouraging private landowners, who control most of Jamaica's forested areas, to have their holdings declared protected under the Forest Act.

Doing so will not only preserve tree cover and protect against soil erosion, but will affect people where it counts — the pocket.

Some 336,000 hectares of land on the island is classified as having forest cover, but the Forestry Department only manages 30 per cent or 110,000 hectares of that.

Speaking with reporters and editors at the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue, St Andrew headquarters, Conservator of Forests Marilyn Headley said not many landowners were jumping at the opportunity because of a lack of awareness.

"We get interest mainly from larger landowners... We promote it on our website and we encourage them, and whenever there is a spike in property tax, you get more interest," said Headley.

"The process is you would write to the conservator and identify that you have 1,000 acres and you want to put up 300 or 400 acres [for example]. You must be the legal owner or have legal access, you must also have information on the boundaries if you are going to look at property, and a plan," said Headley, explaining that while the declaration is granted before the plan is presented, the plan is necessary.

"What it says is that I have this property (and) it has forest on it. So you now are paying property tax for that... You earmark this area to remain in forest cover -- not that you can't do anything with it, you can do eco-tourism activities, you can have trails, just have it there, or you could do selective harvesting," said Headley. "But you maintain the forest cover."

According to the Forestry Department's website, the application in writing should also specify the exact location of the land, including the parish, district, volume and folio number of the title, as well as the time period during which the declaration would apply as it can be for a fixed or indefinite period. Certified copies of any supporting documents plus a diagram of the land, not older than five years, should also be submitted.

Once the criteria are met, the Forestry Department then declares the land a forest management area or a forest reserve, and it's gazetted, after which the landowner is entitled to get remission every year on property tax.

"We really don't get as many (applications) as we like, but every opportunity we get we (try to) get the information across," Headley said.

The Forestry Department is mandated to manage, preserve and conserve the forest resources growing on Government-owned land and they also give advice to private landowners on how they manage their forests.

The department will host an expo at Devon House this Friday, March 21 on the occasion of International Day of Forests.

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