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GFC praises poorly paid forest rangers; refutes reports about Bai Shan Lin

Commissioner of Forests, James Singh seated at the table second from right leading a high-powered team at a news conference.

The Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) on Monday said its lowly-paid forest rangers have been doing a good job in enforcing laws governing concessions and the exports of logs including those by the Chinese company, Bai Shan Lin.

“You may have a few officers who may get involved in activities, which we encounter from time to time, but the vast majority of the GFC staff are very professional, very hardworking, very dedicated and very committed,”  Commissioner of Forests, James Singh told a news conference.

Officials of the regulatory agency said rangers receive an average salary of GUY$65,000 plus field allowances and incentives for uncovering any illegal activities.

The GFC currently has 220 Forest Rangers, a number that Singh said he was satisfied with because they were ensuring legality and compliance. At the same time, he said the Commission could do with another 20 rangers.

Commissioner Singh, acknowledging that the salaries were small, said a review would be done shortly to explore ways of awarding increases. “Obviously not but we are constrained by the government bands because we have to be on par with the other agencies so we have to do a review to see where our bands are currently with…the other regulatory agencies and then we go to our Board and ask them to modify it,” he said. The GFC has 39 forest stations countrywide, real-time close-up satellite monitoring and non-reusable barcode scanner log tags. Satellite imagery, he added, has shown that deforestation and forestry degradation due to forestry activities was a mere 353 hectares of a total deforestation and degradation totaling 16,618 hectares. “This again dispels the notion that forestry activities have been not been regulated, that they are not complying with sustainable forest management principles and that there is rampant illegal logging,” he said.

The GFC said its officers are often rotated among the various locations and other officers from Georgetown visit concession to constantly verify their colleagues work by checking sites and the cross-referencing of information collected by forest stations.

GFC officials said their work is periodically audited by the Independent Forest Monitoring organisation which cross-checks the local regulatory agency’s data with its own field assessment. “We present and open all of our systems for scrutiny and they can ask to see anything and any part of our system,” said GFC’s Head of Planning and Development,Pradeepa Bholanauth.

Singh disputed several pictures published in the Kaieteur News newspapers individually. He said the vast areas of logs shown in aerial photographs were log ponds where produce by various concessionaires were stored in keeping with sustainable forest management practices. “There is another misconception that if you see a big log-pile that it belongs to a Chinese investor. I don’t know where people got this information from but most log ponds or log sites as e call them will have more than one producer stockpiling there,” the GFC boss said.  He said a photograph of a log site in the media had logs for 14 concessionaires. On the matter of several logs being burnt, the Commissioner of Forests said the GFC has received a report about the fire that was set to those logs and the matter was being investigated.

The GFC Commissioner conceded that both Bai Shan Lin and Vaitarna have had infractions that were “procedural” rather than any that would have impacted on the environment. He recalled that Bai Shan Lin’s operations had been suspended for more than one year pending an investigation.

The annual allowable cut is 1.6 million cubic meters, but GFC figures show that only about 35 percent is being harvested.

Addressing specific observations that were made in recent editions of the Kaieteur News newspaper, Singh said trucking of logs is done at night to reduce wear and tear and avoid traffic congestion. Trucks and trailers, he added, are parked during heavy rainfall until the road is reasonably dry. “Trucking is done at not because people are stealing wood or there are thieves in the night but simply for logistical reasons, simply because there is less traffic and because there is less wear and tear on the vehicles,” he said.

He reiterated that Bai Shan Lin does not have one huge concession at which it fells trees but instead has several Joint Ventures with existing concession holders from which logs are harvested and exported. The GFC released figures showing that Bai Shan Lin has two State Forest Exploratory Permits for 104,768 and 73,015 hectares; one to  Sherwood through a Joint Venture for 167,066 hectares and State Forest Permission of 8,170 hectares. The companies with which Bai Shan Lin has Joint Venture arrangements are Haimorakabra Logging for 52,896 hectares; Kwebana Wood Products for 87,361 hectares; Puruni Wood Products for 107,711 hectares and Wood Associated Industries for 26,085 hectares.

The GFC says Guyana has a deforestation rate of less than 0.1 percent even in the face of logging that has been going on for decades.