PP promises new environment policy


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Category: Trinidad Politics 28 July 11

Roodal Moonilal Minister of the Housing and Environment  

Recently a prominent columnist criticised the People’s Partnership Government for breaking the promise of having a dedicated Ministry of the Environment. The Government was further accused of awarding 17 quarrying licences without any Certificate of Environmental Compliance (CEC’s). The columnist, Peter O’Conner called for this Government to “begin to fix our country, starting with the most basic items, our forests and our watersheds.”  Today Minister of the Housing and Environment, Dr Roodal Moonilal, as a guest columnist in our ongoing series, Cleaning Up The Mess, responds to the nation on what the Government intends to do to preserve our forested lands.

New policy framework?

Within the first year of assuming office the Peoples Partnership Government conducted a review of the existing policy, administrative and legislative framework for forest management which included an assessment of the existing redrafted Forest Policies. In February 2011, the Cabinet approved a new Forest Policy and for the first time in the country’s history has approved a National Protected Areas Policy. These Policies are to be laid before the Parliament upon its resumption. These policies would provide the guidance for the long awaited legislative and administrative reforms through which a new system of national protected areas would be established and the Forestry Division would be transformed into a Forest and Protected Areas Management Authority.

There would be an assessment of all the state forested lands including Forest Reserves managed by the Forestry Division and non-Forest Reserves and lands of critical ecological importance such as watersheds, habitats of endemic species, etc would be designated under the new system of protected areas. Under the new administrative and legislative arrangements, lands designated as national protected areas would be vested to the new Authority. The vesting of lands to the authority would result in the authority having full control of activities undertaken on the lands. The activities that would be allowed on each category of protected area are contained in the new Protected Areas Policy. Activities that would negatively impact the integrity of protected areas such as quarrying, removal of trees and squatting would be prohibited. 

Our policies recognise that some forested lands are not placed in the national protected areas system and there have been a number of policy initiatives geared toward the protection of these forests. One such initiative would mean that quarry operators and energy companies undertaking seismic surveys that remove forest cover would have to place bonds with the Authority for the economic value as well as the ecological services (water, air, recreation, soil conservation, coastal protection, wildlife habitat etc) value of the trees to be removed. These bonds would only be returned to the quarry operator or the energy company only upon documented evidence that the area has been restored.  The Government is therefore showing the political will and demonstrates the seriousness with which environmental issues need to be addressed, particularly in the sustainable management of the nation’s forests.

It is important to recognise and appreciate that the restoration of the ecological function of a forest takes a number of years to realise results. The Forestry Division and the National Watershed and Rehabilitation Programme have undertaken the reforestation of a number of areas in the country but the results of these efforts (to mitigate flooding for instance) is going to take at least 30 years for the trees to be fully matured and the forest ecological functional.  It is for this reason that the Government has to continue effort to construct check damps on hillsides and the undertaking drainage works such as de-silting of waterways.

These policies are a significant initial first step to the realization of our ambition to revamp and modernize the entire system for forest, wildlife and protected areas management.

To be continued

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur