Jamaica Gleaner

Wild pig hun­ters linked to bush fires

- Corey Robin­son Staff Re­porter Animals · Ecology · Wildlife · Chinese Ministry of Agriculture · Jamaica · Flamstead · Petersfield

CARE­LESS HUN­TERS of wild hogs are among those be­ing blamed for the bush fires which have af­fected some 405 hectares of for­est re­serves since May.

In its a pre­lim­i­nary as­sess­ment of the re­cent fires, the Forestry Depart­ment added the wild hog hun­ters to farm­ers us­ing the out­dated slash-and­burn method to clear their fields and per­sons who set up hap­haz­ard elec­tri­cal con­nec­tions as the hu­mans be­hind the fires which razed sec­tions of St An­drew and St Thomas.

“We have wild hogs in the for­est re­serves, and per­sons will go into these ar­eas il­le­gally to hunt wild hogs and other an­i­mals,” said Da­mart Wil­liams, en­force­ment of­fi­cer at the Forestry Depart­ment, the agency in the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture with re­spon­si­bil­ity for man­ag­ing and main­tain­ing the coun­try’s for­est re­sources.

“What you find is that in the process of hunt­ing and be­ing there overnight, these in­di­vid­u­als will set up camp sites with fires cook­ing, and that re­sults in a fire,” said Wil­liams.

“All of the ac­tiv­i­ties, be­ing in the for­est re­serves ... light­ing fires ... hunt­ing hogs ... are all of­fences un­der the law,” added Wil­liams.

PROS­E­CUT­ING OF­FEND­ERS

Ac­cord­ing to Wil­liams, the Forestry Depart­ment is de­ter­mined to do its part in hunt­ing down and pros­e­cut­ing of­fend­ers in ac­cor­dance with the laws gov­ern­ing the pro­tec­tion of Ja­maica’s forests.

He noted that no ar­rest has yet been made in con­nec­tion with the fires as the in­ves­ti­ga­tors face sev­eral chal­lenges in their ef­forts to de­ter­mine who or what sparked the blazes.

“There are a num­ber of fac­tors against us with re­gard to iden­ti­fy­ing the re­spon­si­ble par­ties. When a fire starts, the end prod­uct is what you ac­tu­ally see, it’s not some­thing that you can go to a com­mu­nity and find out who the per­son re­spon­si­ble is,” he said.

“We ask ques­tions but per­sons are very re­luc­tant to pass on the in­for­ma­tion to us. As it is now, it is dif­fi­cult for us to just go to an in­di­vid­ual and ar­rest them. The ev­i­dence that we have against those in­di­vid­u­als is in most cases some­what in­suf­fi­cient and does not give us any grounds for ar­rest,” added Wil­liams.

He said the Forestry Depart­ment be­lieves per­sons hunt­ing wild hogs were be­hind a fire which dam­aged five hectares in the John Crow Peak.

That area, along with the Green­wich Trail sec­tion of the Blue Moun­tain For­est Re­serves, was af­fected by four fires be­tween June 5 and July 9.

More than 35 hectares of for­est lands in the Green­wich area was af­fected, while dam­age as­sess­ment is still be­ing car­ried out in re­gard to the nearby Ch­ester­field For­est Re­serve, which was also sig­nif­i­cantly dam­aged.

DEV­AS­TAT­ING EF­FECTS

In an ear­lier set of fires in Mavis Bank in May, the Forestry Depart­ment re­vealed that 366 hectares of for­est re­serves were af­fected. The ar­eas in­cluded Bel­lview, Flam­stead, Or­chard and Peters­field.

The Forestry Depart­ment has also un­der­scored the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of fires on the forestry re­serves, not­ing that these in­crease the chance of land­slides due to runoff dur­ing rain rain­fall, es­pe­cially in ar­eas where the hill­side is ex­posed.

“This poses a sig­nif­i­cant threat to com­mu­ni­ties and phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture in the lower reaches of the wa­ter­shed area. In ad­di­tion, there is likely to be a re­duc­tion in the fer­til­ity of the soil re­sult­ing from the loss of nu­tri­ents, which fur­ther com­pounds fu­ture at­tempts to es­tab­lish for­est cover in these ar­eas.”

Wil­liams said that in re­sponse, the agency has been em­bark­ing on a string of public-ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns aimed at dis­suad­ing in­di­vid­u­als from cer­tain tra­di­tional prac­tices that com­monly lead to fires.

So far, the public-ed­u­ca­tion ef­forts have not taken off as well as planned, but Wil­liams re­mains hope­ful that per­sons will take heed as t he dry sea­son con­tin­ues.

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