Wildlife Policy Comments
Comments on the Proposed Draft of the Revised National Wildlife Policy.
Molly R. Gaskin. President, The Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust.
The new draft of the wildlife policy is a good one, but there is one particularly serious omission that needs to be included if the policy is to be of any value.
Almost every page begs the same vital question. How and by whom is all this going to be monitored, protected, enforced and maintained? Everyone knows that this lack has been a problem, if not the major problem, in our Country. There are currently 14 Game Wardens to patrol the entire country! Unbelievable! We are not talking about Honorary Game Wardens; again, we all know that some are good and honest, but we all also know, that there are too many others who only want to have information about where the game is so that they themselves can go after it etc.etc.etc. This policy must include at the very beginning; the employment of approximately 40 well-trained, well-armed, dedicated Game Wardens to be employed at the Wildlife Section of the Forestry Division of the current Ministry of the Environment & Water Resources, otherwise, “we are spinning top in mud”. This omission is truly grave but it can and must be addressed if the policy is to make sense. The policy talks about a Board, about working with CBO’s, NGO’s, about establishing a fund, about collaborating with relevant Government Agencies etc. etc., so the appointment of more Game Wardens must be included. I am in agreement with much that is written, 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”?
Further, the Policy itself is explicit that there is a grave threat to some of our flora & fauna. Over and over we read the words “direct and indirect threats to wildlife populations”! “Threatened”! “Endangered”! “Near extinct”. It also speaks about habitats, new wildlife reserves and protected landscapes and seascapes etc. etc. Who is going to patrol and protect all of these? As articulated above, we desperately need more Game Wardens.
We also urgently need a Moratorium on hunting that will give all our wildlife a chance to recover. This has worked before and will work again. 10,800 permits for 2012/2013 have been issued! And these are the legal ones! What about the thousands of illegal game hunted in and out of season in this same period!
Attention 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. There is neither concern nor fear about breaking this law, “pay the fine and continue” is the attitude. Stiffer fines must accompany the appointment of more Game Wardens.
Hunters, bona-fide, law-abiding, honest hunters, know that it is true that a 3 year Moratorium will be to their benefit. In fact, some of my colleagues are bona-fide hunters and have said as much. There is a story going around that if there is a Moratorium, there will be a proliferation of marijuana fields! That is a sad excuse that does not hold water. The period of such a moratorium will also provide the perfect opportunity for scientists and researchers to carry out investigative & detailed research work in the field, which is much needed in Trinidad & Tobago. We all know that such valuable research cannot be concluded in one closed season.
Yes, yes, there is much discussion about land degradation. How long have hunters conservationists, environmentalists, even the general public shouted about this and written newspaper articles too numerous to mention? Illegal quarrying all along the Northern Range, decimating our forests; houses on steep hillsides and in watershed areas where they are not supposed to be; unstable soft coastal lands filled in and coastal vegetation and mangroves totally removed; nothing to hold rushing waters.
Repeat, repeat, repeat, what are we, despite all the shouting, doing about proper land-use planning and so-called developments that have no permission but that are proceeding anyway? BUT THAT IS NOT THE ISSUE NOW. That has also been one of our Country’s main problems; consultations, even “fights” on many issues all laid out before different Government’s doors; many doors, and in the public’s eye, but with never a resolution! Let’s finish this job in front of us now (NWP) and have a proper decision and have this job well done.
Another issue that must be addressed is on page 6 of the Draft NWP and this is “Vermin”. This section is archaic and ecologically damaging to our natural environment and therefore to ourselves. BATS ARE NOT VERMIN, not even the much maligned Vampire bat; see the books written by the acknowledged world experts on Bats, Arthur M. Greenhall; Merlin D. Tuttle. 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 & cockroach populations. Trinidad has 9 of the 18 families of Bats in the world; so instead of listing them as Vermin, we should be proud that we have these beneficial mammals. Bats must be removed form the current 3rd Schedule of the Conservation of Wildlife Act. We strongly endorse the comments offered by Mr. Geoffrey Gomes & his group “Trinibats”.
Listed here as well is the bird that is the National Bird of Trinidad & Tobago, a bird that is on our Coat of Arms. The Cocrico is listed as vermin! A disgrace; this would not happen in a “First World” Country. In 1963, Hurricane Flora devastated Tobago; decimating the forest and destroying the Cocrico’s food trees. In the wild, they feed on seeds, berries and leaves. Why could we not be pro-active and do as is done in some other countries, like Costa Rica, and plant a buffer zone of forest feed trees around agricultural plots? This buffer zone has many added advantages for the agriculturists.
A law is only as good as its ability to be enforced. A new National Wildlife Policy. Great. But there is much that must be addressed