Inside The Cockpit Country – Stakeholders Question Value Of Boundary Consultations
Petre Williams-Raynor, Contributing Editor
WITH public consultations on the Cockpit Country boundary now at an end, some stakeholders have questioned the value of the process and its likely outcomes.
Head of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) Hugh Dixon said, in fact, that the process had not been necessary for the section of the Cockpit Country within the ‘Ring Road’ – an area that has never been in dispute.
“Let us lock that part first, put the legislation in place that says ‘this is protected; you don’t mine, you don’t quarry, you don’t cut out the lumber without specific permit’ – whether you are a state or a private owner of the resource,” he insisted.
“If we can get that (protection), we can then negotiate the peripheral areas. But the solid core, the contiguous, geomorphological area known from the literature and early studies, let’s deal with that now,” the STEA executive director added.
Failing that, Dixon said prospecting for bauxite in the Cockpit Country would continue.
“The prospecting licence is an opportunity for the State to come in and do all sorts of things until we get our act together figuring out this boundary. We are basically delaying and allowing those who have urgent interest in raping the resource to get their hold on it,” he said.
Debate over the boundary dates back to 2005 when the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group (CCSG) – comprised largely of ‘green’ lobbyists – campaigned to prevent mining in the area, which is one of Jamaica’s ecological prizes.
As a result, Government ordered a boundary study, intended to help inform what activities should be allowed in the area that teems with plant and animal life – much of them endemic to the island.
The University of the West Indies (UWI) was contracted to do the work and came up with a boundary that covers a smaller area of the Cockpit Country than does the CCSG, which has put on the table its own boundary.
The UWI boundary, according to its report, completed in 2008, “lies within or on the ‘Ring Road’, which encircles the Cockpit Country and originally linked the British Colonial Army camps of the 17th and 18th centuries”.
The CCSG boundary, on the other hand, “specifically includes areas of cockpit and other karst in the Dry Harbour Mountains (Litchfield or Scarborough Mountain), the Nassau Valley, the Nassau Mountains, and areas to the west of Maggotty, Elderslie and the Maldon Inlier”.
“This area includes more than just the Cockpit Country physiographical area, and includes extensive drainage areas that feed into the Great River, Montego River and Rio Bueno,” the report added.
More than four years on, UWI secured money from the Forest Conservation Fund to do the public consultations, which ended on June 11 in Kingston. But as yet, it is anyone’s guess how the issue will be resolved.
Dr Dale Webber, head of the UWI Centre for Environmental Management that led the consultations, could not be reached for comment up to press time. However, he had previously indicated to The Gleaner that next steps should have included the filing of a report, which the Government was to use to inform a final decision on the boundary.
Lorna Williams-Christie, secretary for the Cockpit Country Forest Management Committees (CCLFMC), has taken issue with the process, saying that as yet there is no compromise boundary.
“If they want us to come to a compromise, they will have to present the boundary that is between the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group boundary and the UWI boundary, which I have not seen them present. Until now, all of the boundaries they have there, the only one I have seen a presenter (Windsor Research Centre’s Mike Schwartz) for is the CCSG boundary, which is unfair to the public,” Williams-Christie added.
Her colleague Calvin Shirley – chair of one of the CCLFMCs – said he, too, felt no closer to a resolution.
“I don’t see us close to any compromise right now. I don’t know what they are coming with. We are on a wait and see until things unfold,” he said.
Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust, agreed.
“I think there is a compromise position; that position just needs to be put on the table,” she said.
“There was [also] not a clear presentation on the boundary at all the meetings. Surely, the basic thing that should happen is that somebody or some bodies should stand up and say these are the six or seven boundaries and ask about the people’s feedback. That did not happen at many of the meetings,” McCaulay noted, adding that there ought, also, to have been greater political participation.
It has the distinction of being Jamaica’s last remaining wilderness. It boasts 1500 endemic plant and animal species, earning its global designation as a” Hot Spot in a Hot Spot.” It produces 40% of Jamaica’s ground water and is a major watershed serving western Jamaica through the Great River, the Black River, the Martha Brae River and the YS River.
Its array of plant species has not been analyzed for their active ingredients but they serve the local population in the treatment of several ailments that have been prescribed by the Maroon population in the community of Accompong for centuries. Its waterfalls, landscapes, cave communities and the cultural traditions of its 66 buffer zone communities are amazing for nature tourism. The hospitality of the 73 thousand residents that live in tune with nature, cultivate crops on the fertile soil of the bottom lands and produce the most delectable cuisines on a daily basis is just awesome.
This 1000 sq km of public and privately owned lands is called “Cockpit Country” in Jamaica because of its conical hillocks sitting on a geological uplift of pure white limestone. Its network of trails and caves are a significant part of our heritage because of the successful liberation wars of the Maroon people against British forces. This Cockpit Country has many stakeholders that can be listed under the categories, sustainable and unsustainable.
The interest of those listed unsustainable encompass activities that would see the destruction and degradation of Cockpit County landscape in the short to medium term. The most destructive activities include; mining of Bauxite and quarrying limestone. Those listed sustainable include activities that will see to the wise use of this pristine landscape contributing to its preservation way into the future for several generations.
On this World Environmental Day please join in the campaign to save this special place called Cockpit Country in Jamaica.
Please examine the map to the upper right hand corner of this attached photo. The yellow line represents the governments strategically proposed “Cockpit Country Protected Area” (CCPA) boundary to become law eventually. All the checkered lines are the governments intention to dig down bauxite in and around Cockpit Country. The Special Mining Lease Area 173 (SML173) checkered in blue is the governments & Noranda’s immediate planned mining into western St. Ann and Trelawny south. The SML173 is a CRITICAL part of the Cockpit Country landscape omitted from the government’s (CCPA) boundary. This area MUST be saved from mining which is scheduled to start in September 2019.