Where is Cockpit Country?

KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor - Features & Environment thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 21, 2015

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DEPENDING on who you talk to, Cockpit Country — the expanse of tropical rainforest situated on sculpted limestone hills and valleys in west central Jamaica — is spread over 1,099 square km, or just about 10 per cent of the island's total area. That would have it featuring in six parishes: St James, Trelawny, St Ann, St Elizabeth, Manchester, and the northern tip of Clarendon.


Another interpretation puts it at 820 square km, featuring the parishes already mentioned, except St Ann. And yet, another says it is concentrated in Trelawny and only comprises primary forest.


The former is the boundary as defined by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group, which is a conglomeration of over 37 non-governmental organisations. The second proposition is called the National Ecological Gap Assessment Report (NEGAR) and was put forward by the National Environmental Planning Agency, The Forestry Department and the Institute of Jamaica in 2009. The third was proposed by Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr as part of his PhD work in 2005.


There are several other propositions, but none of them, even those commissioned by Government itself, has been officially established. That has left the door open to interpretation in terms of where mining can take place.


University of the West Indies professor Dr Dale Webber and Dr Claudel Noel hosted 18 public consultations on behalf of the Government in communities within Cockpit Country, as well as three town hall meetings in Kingston, Montego Bay and Santa Cruz. In their technical report, published September 2014, they recommended that "the official boundary for the Cockpit Country should be comprised of a Core, a Transition Zone and an Outer Boundary".


"The Core of the Cockpit Country boundary should be primarily based on the contiguous geological, geomorphological and biological parameters. The Core must be the centre of the best and primary forest within the Cockpit Country. It is better that the Core of the boundary be free of human settlements and (human) activities," the published technical report said.


"The 2005 Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr proposed boundary, which also enclosed the current forest reserve, can stand as a Core as it fits the above characteristics. The 2005 Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr proposed boundary is suggested as the Core of the boundary.


"The Transition Zone of the boundary must be legally protected, but it will require fewer restrictions because it includes human settlement areas, agricultural lands, and other types of forest reserve, where some regulated anthropogenic activities take place... The Cockpit Country NEGAR add-on boundary is suggested as the transition zone of the boundary," the document continued.


For the outer boundary, Drs Webber and Noel said it "may include other forest reserves or special areas that need to be placed under stringent protection and conservation measures. The boundary proposed by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders' Group is suggested as the outer boundary".


"The outer boundary should be legally protected. It can also be considered as a buffer zone depending on the arrangements as indicated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) or UNESCO's World Heritage Convention. There may be fewer restrictions in this zone," the 2014 report said.


The reason for the three-layer boundary, it explained, is for the protection and conservation of the primary forest in the interior.


Drs Webber and Noel cautioned that though "each proposed boundary has its own advantages and disadvantages based on the terms of reference or criteria upon which it was defined and proposed,... it is urgent that the Government of Jamaica declares an official boundary for the Cockpit Country in order to put an end to the current level of uncertainty and tension among the relevant stakeholders".


 

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