Environmentalist and president of the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust Molly Gaskin, has hit out at the new Draft National Wildlife Policy saying that while intentions are good in terms of protecting TT’s diverse flora and fauna, it has no “teeth” to enforce the law on protection of the natural environment.
“It’s a solid draft but contains a serious omission when it comes to the question of how and by whom will the issue of monitoring, protecting, enforcing and maintaining fall to. Everyone knows that this lack has been a problem, if not the major problem, in our country,” Gaskin told Sunday Newsday.
She noted there were currently 14 game wardens tasked with patrolling the entire country and ensuring no breaches to the Wildlife Act. “This is unbelievable! We are not talking about honorary game wardens... again, we all know that some are good and honest, but we also know, that there are too many others who only want to have information about where the game is so they themselves can go after it.”
This policy, she said, must include at the very beginning; employment of about 40 well-trained, well-armed, full time game wardens employed with the Wildlife Section of the Forestry Division of the current Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.
“Otherwise,” she warned, “we are and will be spinning top in mud.” She said the appointment of more game wardens must be addressed if the policy is to make sense, noting that it talks about a Board, about working with CBOs, NGOs, about establishing a fund, and about collaborating with relevant Government agencies and so on but not about having more game wardens.
“I am in agreement with much that is written in the draft, but repeat the question “Who is going to do the real work that is so urgently needed, the ground work, the fieldwork, the patrolling and enforcement?” she asked.
Gaskin said a moratorium was also urgently needed to allow all wildlife a chance to recover.
“This has worked before and will work again,” she said. Noting that 10,800 permits for the 2012/2013 hunting season have been issued, she wondered about the thousands of illegal game hunted in and out of season in this same period.
Attention, Gaskin added, must also be paid to the extremely low penalties for breaking the law and hunting illegally, and the selling of wild meat out-of-season. Stiffer fines must accompany the appointment of more game wardens, she said.
Gaskin also took issue with the use of the term “vermin” in the Draft Policy. This term was archaic and ecologically damaging to TT’s natural environment, she said.
“Bats are now vermin! Not even the much maligned vampire bat. Bats are far more important to us than even birds in pollination, seed dispersal and insect control. Many of our forest trees depend on them. Bats also help control our rat and cockroach populations,” she noted..
She also noted that the Cocrico, one of the country’s National Birds (the Scarlet Ibis is the other) which is depicted on the Coat of Arms, is listed as “vermin” in the Policy.