Vexing issues persist at pine forest

Concerns remain about the clearing of the pine forest off Carmichael Road on New Providence, according to Danielle Hanek, acting director of the Forestry Unit in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, but she said yesterday despite efforts made by a multi-agency task force addressing illegality in that area, there is a “bottleneck” that has slowed real solutions.

Asked for an update on a matter raised by the authorities more than six months ago — after an initial uproar on social media — Hanek said, “Yes, it is still an issue. Yes, the Forestry Unit is still concerned. Yes, there’s still an effort to resolve the matter because it’s very complex.

“It’s not just [the Forestry Unit], it’s just not the permitting system in regards to Department of Environmental Planning and Protection or Building Control or Department of Physical Planning. So, all of our agencies are still actively attempting to find a resolution to it.”

She said her agency has submitted recommendations to the government on how to address the problem.

“We’re in a holding pattern right now, but we still continue to get reports. We still continue to do site visits and we do our part, which is to report what is happening there,” Hanek said.

Last June, during a multi-agency tour of the area along with the media, authorities said a significant area of the pine forest had been cleared, squatters were residing on the land, an illegal coal operation was evident, as was illegal excavation, and there was an illegal firing range.

The site of an alleged illegal coal manufacturing operation was seen during a press tour of an area north of Carmichael Road. DANTE CARRER

At the time, Hanek said an estimated 339 acres of the 786-acre site had been illegally cleared over the preceding two years. She blamed the deforestation on the severe flooding experienced by many western New Providence residents and business people last May.

While noting that the problem facing the forest area is multi-dimensional and beyond the scope of just the Forestry Unit, she said failure to bring resolve to the  issue, to date, hasn’t been for lack of trying.

“I know I’ve done my best in doing what I need to do and I’ve passed it on to those who need to then advance it,” she added.

“So, we’ve handed it over to the police. The police have done their investigations, they do their patrols, they are doing the reports that are needed to build the cases for it to go to court and for some reason it’s not advancing and I can’t put a finger on it. I can’t tell you exactly where the bottleneck is, but we’re experiencing that.”

Hanek was also asked if the unit has seen evidence of additional clearing of the forest.

She said, “Yes, we suspect other areas have been cleared. We are waiting on a few things.

“One is just access to getting out there and flying the drone again, so that we can get updated imagery, so there are a few items that are hindering that, but that’s what we’re trying to work on, so that we can get an updated number.”

During the tour of the site last June, Minister of National Security Wayne Munroe assured at the time that the government would move urgently to address the issue of squatters and other concerns on the site.

Asked yesterday for an update, Munroe said, “I’m advised that the Ministry of Works has served all of the notices that are precursors to the valid demolition orders.”

Munroe also committed to getting an updated briefing from the Bahamas Wildlife Enforcement Network (BWEN) regarding the issues of a firing range and the charcoal kilns that were at the site.

In June, Royal Bahamas Defence Force Lieutenant Commander Desiree Corneille, who heads the BWEN, said that at any point in time, there were six to eight charcoal kilns continually burning. 

“They burn for about 10 to 15 days,” Corneille said. 

“They produce quite a bit of coal that we know are on sale all around New Providence. They use the protected trees that are in the forest area.”

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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