Rupununi communities voice concerns over proposed Bai Shan Lin operations

-say concession may overlap titled lands

Fearful of impacts from proposed logging activities by Bai Shan Lin in the North Rupununi, community leaders on Friday raised concerns with the Guyana Forestry Commis-sion (GFC) Board in Annai but left the meeting dissatisfied with the responses received.

“I was not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting,” Chairman of the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) Michael Williams told Stabroek News. He added though that he appreciated the fact that the GFC Board took some time to meet with the leaders even as he said that time was an issue. “All the questions were not raised because of the time limit,” he said.

Several representatives of the area, including toshaos, met with the GFC Board of Directors on Friday and in a two and a half hours meeting, the GFC spent half the time defending the operations of Bai Shan Lin, attendees at the meeting told Stabroek News. Williams described the meeting as “top to bottom” and said that the GFC “came to clear their names,” in light of recent media reports regarding the operations of logging company Bai Shan Lin.

The NRDDB Chairman told Stabroek News that the GFC representatives did not disclose much. “All they were saying and continuing to say to us was that the process was now starting,” he said, while voicing his own skepticism about the GFC’s claims. “They (GFC) were saying that things were not happening,” he said, but the communities have been told by sources who have ventured into the area that roads are being built, logs harvested and wildlife is being hunted in great quantities. He questioned how this could be so when the company is supposed to still be in the exploratory stage.

Williams, a former toshao of Annai, said that the GFC representatives told them that the process of dialogue has now begun.

Bai Shan Lin in June applied to the Environ-mental Protection Agency (EPA) for permission to begin large-scale logging and sawmilling operations at its forest concessions in regions Six and Nine. The project would entail the felling, extraction of timber and transportation of same to a processing facility, grading, construction of roads, skid trails, bridges, culverts, and camps with other ancillary facilities within the concession, the EPA said. The EPA said that it recognises that the development may have significant impacts on the environment and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required before any decision to approve or reject the proposed project is taken.

Residents of North Rupununi have expressed concern that they have not been consulted for the EIA and pointed out that they have several issues that they are concerned about.

Williams stated that one of the issues raised with the GFC was that the Bai Shan Lin concessions borders Apoteri and other communities and there appears to be no buffer zone and should the communities want an extension of their land, they would be unable to do so.

Williams had also noted that Bai Shan Lin’s concessions were contiguous to Apoteri’s and Rewa’s land and according to the legislation, these communities should have been notified of impending developments but this was not done. He said too that it seems that the concessions cover parts of the communities’ titled lands but the maps provided by the GFC does not show the location of the communities and so they have been unable to definitively determine if this is so.

According to the Forests Act, there should also be a buffer zone but since they are unable to determine the parameters of the concessions, they have been unable to determine if there is any such zone, the NRDDB chairman said.

Williams noted that the communities also pointed out that it seemed to take very little time for land to be allocated to Bai Shan Lin but when the communities apply for their land, it takes years for this to be processed.

He said that they were assured that any application by the communities will be dealt with expeditiously. “They said Apoteri or any other village, once they apply for extension, priority will be given to them,” he recalled and informed that in this light, Apoteri, Rewa and Crashwater will apply for extensions of their land.

He said that they also expressed concerns about the Chinese use of wildlife as persons had reported that wild animals were being indiscriminately hunted in those areas. He also noted that the Arapaima Management Plan, which is undergoing revision, encompasses areas in the Bai Shan Lin concession and they are afraid what the operations could mean for this project.

The NRDDB Chairman said too that concerns were also raised about a road being built and said that they were told that the company has a right to build one but not one that vehicles could access yet.

Recently, Commissio-ner of Forests James Singh said that Bai Shan Lin has begun harvesting on its State Forest Exploratory permit (SFEP) 01/2013, which covers 73,015 hectares in Region Six. Singh said that the media will be invited on a field trip on a later date.

North Rupununi communities have been worried about the impact that logging would have on their communities, particularly Apoteri and Rewa. The communities have been involved in conservation efforts as well as eco-tourism activities.

Chief Executive Officer of the NRDDB Ivor Marslow had told Stabroek News that Apoteri, particularly, was concerned because the Bai Shan Lin concession borders the community. “Once there is road access, all sorts of hunting and thing start to happen,” he said. He had recalled that the community had requested that the area be classified as a conservation area but there has been no response from the authorities.

Marslow had noted that Apoteri has a fledging eco-tourism operation and “if there is mass exploitation, there would be nothing” for people to see. “Logging brings people and people bring changes to the environment,” he noted.

Williams told Stabroek News that they want more consultations and said that they understand that development has to happen but they are concerned about how it is being implemented without input from the communities. “There will be development… but when development happens, we need to be consulted,” Williams said.

Bai Shan Lin has announced big plans in various sectors for Guyana but concerns have been raised by some analysts that its primary interest is logs for export, with little downstream processing. Its operations have come under increased scrutiny in recent times. The company has failed to live up to commitments to do value-added processing but government officials, including President Donald Ramotar, have defended the company. Bai Shan Lin’s access to key parts of the economy has also raised questions about the regulation of its business by the forestry commission and associated bodies.