Update May 13, 2016
The Forestry Department, in carrying out the mandate of the government to create protected areas for a sustainable forest preserve throughout The Bahamas, held a series of town meetings to discuss the proposed protected sites on Abaco and introduce the draft regulations for hunting licenses.
Director of the Department of Forestry, Christopher Russel, highlighted several areas across Abaco that are proposed to be designated forest reserves, protected forests and conservation forests, and what the relative designations meant for public use of these areas.
The area that created the most significant stir among the audience was information regarding the requirements of a proposed hunting license. Mr. Russel noted that the government has no substantial data on hunting in the Bahamas making such regulations necessary.
However, locals balked at the price tag of a hunting license which was proposed. The fee structured proposed is a one-time $50 application fee and $200 for the annual license. Residents felt this was too high, coming from the present lack of a fee at all to $200. Residents were still upset about the gun license hike (going from$50 to $150) over a year ago.
Further it was stated by an officer at the meeting that gun licenses are only granted for the purpose of hunting and that the only license being proposed for hunting is for hunting birds, causing further concerns about those who hunt wild hogs on the island.
It was suggested in a questionnaire that followed the meeting that interested persons should form a hunting association in order to petition government on the concerns as an organized body.
Original Article as it appeared in Print.
During the first week of May, the Ministry of Environment and Housing through its Forestry Unit met with the public of Abaco to inform residents about conservation measures regarding forests located on Crown Land.
The Forestry Unit was established through the Forestry Act, and a recent amendment established authority over hunting provisions.
Highlights of the meeting included dissatisfaction over hunting license applications, new categories and locations for protected forests, concern over illegal and environmentally damaging activities, and discussion about the little-known-fact that hunting wild boar with guns is technically illegal.
The first meeting was held in Central Abaco at Central Abaco Primary School during the evening of May 4. It was to be followed by a Town Meeting in Sandy Point on May 11 and a subsequent one in Cooper’s Town on May 12.
The presentations in all three meetings were to be identical.
The Director of Forestry, Christopher Russell, assisted by Forestry Officer Danielle Culmer-Hanek conducted the first meeting.
The presentations were to explain to Abaco residents the concept of Forestry Estate which will place the redefined areas of Crown Land under the management of the Minister responsible for Forestry.
People were also told why some areas were to become National Forests, to show them where these areas would be located and to mark their boundaries. They were also invited to voice concerns or ask questions.
Forests included in the Forestry Estate have been classified into three categories:
– Forest Reserve: Crown Land to be managed as a permanent forest estate for the sustained yield of timber or other forest produce.
– Protected Forest: Crown Land to be managed in the same manner as forest reserves until land is required for agriculture, industry, residential purposes or other developments.
– Conservation Forest: Any area of significant wildlife habitat, wetland, woodland or area of natural or scientific interest, a significant natural resource and/or biological diversity.
Forest Reserves and Conservation Forests are essentially permanent and can only be changed by the national legislature.
Protected Forests do not have such a long lasting status.
The methodology used to identify these areas consisted of geographic information systems with information from Land & Survey collected. Physical identification was gathered by using Google Earth, aerial imagery, as well as previous data from 2010.
Desktop analysis was used to establish boundaries. Consultations with stakeholders such as the Department of Housing, the Town Planning Commission, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Physical Planning and maps reflecting the multiple land use were of further help.
On boundary maps, light green shows conservation forest, forest reserve is colored a darker green, protected forest is a shade between the other two.
The areas that will fall under the Forestry Estate are the National Forest in Sandy Point, Crown Land around Eight Mile Bay, Little Harbour, Little Abaco, Norman’s castle, Deals Creek, Sweet Bread, Central Abaco and Marsh Harbour.
Before the final presentation concerning hunting regulations, a few people voiced their concerns. One resident felt that the meeting was more a delivery of information rather than a consultation of the residents. She was told that there will be individual meetings and that the boundaries could still be adjusted.
Another resident had a problem with the stated areas being able to be changed by the Government.
“Nothing is permanent,” answered Mr. Russell, but the designated areas are isolated which means that changing their status might not interfere with people. The questioning resident also had a problem with people cutting roads; he suggested that there should be a road between public and private land in areas that are to be developed.
His suggestion was noted by Mrs. Hanek.
His last remark was about the agricultural use of pesticides and fertilizers leaching into the water table and polluting the water resources.
Other attendants expressed concerns about illegal rock cutting and mining as well as dumping. The state of the Snake Cay Public Dump also arose as a justified concern.
In his presentation, Mr. Russell informed the hunters present of the hunting procedures and restrictions contained in Hunting Regulations 2014.
The species of wild birds allowed to be hunted during the hunting season such as doves and pigeons were mentioned and the formalities about requesting a hunting license were explained as well as which forms to be used to request new licenses, renewal or replacement and the fees to accompany these applications.
The License application states that “No person shall kill or attempt to kill or capture any bird noted as wild bird during hunting season without obtaining a hunting license”.
Mr. Russell outlined the seasons for various birds, from September 15 to March 1 for Ring-necked or Mourning Doves. Zenaida Doves, White Crown Pigeons and Ring-necked Pheasants can be hunted from September 29 to March 1 2017. The season for Coots, Partridges, Wilson Snipes, all geese and non-protected American ducks runs September 29 to March 31 2017.
There are no hunting season for Ground Doves, Key West Quail- Doves, Ruddy Ducks, White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks, Caribbean Doves and West Indian Whistle Ducks; they are protected.
Some hunters present had a problem with having to get their licenses from Nassau because of the time it takes for issuance.
“The season might be over when we get it” one commented.
People were also shocked to find out from ASP Mortimer, who was in attendance, that wild boar hunting is illegal.
They were told that there is a wild Animals Protection Act and that Wild Boars might qualify for that distinction.
Also, any of the redefined forests can be declared Game Reserves for the purpose of Wild Birds Protection Act or Regulations.
Several other Forestry Officers, Mr. Terrance Rodgers in charge of Abaco, Andros Forestry Supervisor Mr. Vawell Hannah, Mr. Kurt Cunningham, Forestry Assistant and Ms. Latonya Williams, Forestry Assistant were also present at the event.
The group will spend the next few days marking boundaries throughout the island. On Wednesday May 11, they are to mark the National Forest around Saw Mill Sink.