Environment in trouble
April 29, 2005

Environment in trouble

Several acres of land on hillsides throughout different parts of mainland St. Vincent and in the Grenadines have been scorched in recent weeks through raging flames, some of which have burnt for hours.

The impact of the wild fires has been taking its toll on the fragile environment and has become a matter of concern for forestry officials. {{more}}

Andrew Lockhart, a forestry officer underscored the effects the bush fires are having. He highlighted losses to our heritage sites, historic buildings, soil nutrients among the widespread negative effects bush fires are having on the state.

Lockhart could not determine the acreage damaged by fire this year, but noted the high cost of taking care of the burnt out zones.

A vivid example of the full potential of bush fires was revealed earlier this month in the North Leeward district.

Lost in the flames, which spread over a massive expanse of land, was an historic building formerly used as a doctor’s residence atop Petit Bordel Hill.

North Leeward businessman Dennis Smith, some years ago purchased the property and used as an entertainment centre. The house was reduced to ash and twisted galvanise, following a fire.

Smith is counting his losses as a result of the blaze, and since the structure was uninsured, he is contemplating ways of approaching the rebuilding process.

Lockhart though, outlined that while some of the fires were accidental, others got out of control after persons tried, for whatever reasons, to light dried grass. Other fires may have been malicious, Lockhart indicated, some by unscrupulous hunters of iguana, manicou and tattoo, all wild meat delicacies.

Those situations highlight a dangerous and illegal trend for, besides the obvious danger of destroying the surroundings persons are taking advantage of the animals’ quest for water in order to flush them out.

The situation compounds the issue.

Lockhart noted that burnt out areas contribute to lost soil nutrients, reducing the fertility of the soil. It leaves the area so exposed that when the rains come, there is the danger of soil washing away. The eroded top soil ends up in rivers and eventually the sea, endangering marine life forever.

Even though there are laws under which persons can be prosecuted for environmental damage, the instances of persons brought to justice for this are rare.

Lockhart emphasises the destruction that bush fires can cause, at the moment of blazing and continuing onwards. For, besides the easy erosion it facilities, there is the “invasion” of plant life on areas scorched by the flames.

Additionally, the damaged landscape exposes quarries, which have an extra dangerous effect, for sometimes, landslides and slippages contribute to the potential hazards.

Destruction to the vegetation too has a lingering effect. Lockhart noted that vegetation helps to keep the soil in place, and its removal affects the marine life.

He is also worried that the reduction in the greenery is having an impact on our water catchment capabilities, and is concerned that our water level may be affected.

He is therefore urging “every one to be on the alert,” and is making a special appeal to “desist from lighting fires”.

The issue of bush fires has been a focus of attention as seen by the staging of the 10th Caribbean Foresters Conference in Puerto Rico last year, and Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Girlyn Miguel recently returned from Rome where Wild Fires was the main issue of attention.