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Feb 8, 2017

New Penalties Target Illegal Logging

On Monday, the Forestry Department announced amendments to the Forest Act that provide for stiffer penalties for illegal logging. The increase in fines will be imposed on persons found with woods like Rosewood, Zericote and Mahogany and based on three key indicators. But the Department is giving the public a grace period to take in the wood they have in their possession. We spoke with Minister Omar Figueroa who explained that the increases in penalties and fines were necessary to match ongoing illegal logging that is threatening some species of our hardwoods.

 

Omar Figueroa

Omar Figueroa, Minister of State, Forestry

“I think it was the earlier part of December, we had a bust of illegal rosewood and we faced the challenge there that although we had a substantial value of hardwood, Belizean hardwood, all we were able to do was charge these folks a thousand dollars, right. And so we believe that the fees prescribed by the Forest Act which dated back to the earlier part of the 20th century are no longer relevant to in today’s society and we needed to readjust these penalties where the prescribed fee will now scale proportionally to the magnitude of the offence. So, if you look at the case back in early December where the gentleman was charged a thousand dollars for having thirty one thousand board feet of rosewood, if he were to be caught now with the new penalty in place, he would face a fine of about seven hundred and forty-four thousand dollars. We believe that we need these kinds of penalties to serve as a deterrent to this illegal trafficking and illegal logging. We lose millions and millions of dollars and in fact some of our prized hardwoods are now becoming threatened with commercial extinction because of the illegal harvesting. One major step is to readjust the fines and let it serve as deterrent to these illegal activities.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“These increased penalties include all of our major hardwoods?”

 

Omar Figueroa

“They include all of our major hardwoods and we have a fee system that is defined in the scheduled. Not all hardwoods are charged the same. We based it on three factors; the commercial price, the ecological value and the rarity of the species.  So, you have timber species like rosewood and zericote will be penalized a little harder than some of the other species like Cedar and some of the other ones.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Now, Minister, I understand that there is also an amnesty period that runs through to the twentieth of this month; are you able to explain what that amnesty period covers?”

 

Omar Figueroa

“Yes. We don’t want to catch anyone by surprise, so we decided that we will give people an amnesty period – a grace period – to allow any folks who have illegal timber, who have illegal rosewood, to bring it in the Forest Department and you will not be penalized; you will not be charged, but you will not be allowed to keep the rosewood and that grace period ends on the twentieth of this month.  One thing that I must mention in the amendment is that it allows for Belizean whistleblowers out there who might be aware of these illegal materials, they can call in and give us information and the amendment allows for them to be rewarded for providing that information.”

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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