KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) – With hundreds of acres of forest cover lost since the start of the year due to bush fires, Conservator of Forests, Marilyn Headley, is imploring citizens to desist from lighting fires in and around wooded areas.
“In May, you'll recall we lost about 367 hectares of forests (960 acres). Since then we've had several fires in (rural) St Andrew and (in the hills of) St Thomas. It really has been a bad year,” she noted.
Headley, who is also Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Department, informed that the department is collaborating with the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) on a public awareness programme, aimed at drawing attention to the dangers of lighting fire to clear land or burn garbage.
She noted that farming communities are being targeted in order “to make it abundantly clear that there is no need to light fires, particularly to clear land for agricultural use.”
“Slash and burn do not have to be married. You can slash but you don't have to burn,” she pointed out.
Senior Director at the Forestry Department Donna Lowe, noted that in addition to the problem of deforestation, irresponsible use of the slash and burn method can result in biodiversity loss, as various plants and animals that live in an area are destroyed. Fields may gradually lose fertility due to loss of nutrients, she said.
“When they burn they are killing all the insects and organisms on that particular piece of land that help to recycle nutrients. When they burn they reduce the fertility of the land they are looking forward to farm and end up using more fertiliser. This could lead to another eutrophication problem (an overabundance of nutrients) within our water system,” she said.
Legal Officer at the Forestry Department, Rainee Oliphant, informed that persons could face hefty fines for lighting fires.
“When someone goes in and clears land for agricultural purposes by burning, they could find themselves facing fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. We are finding that the resident magistrates are now more willing to assign higher fines and penalties in relation to the offence taking place,” she said.