Foresters in flyover to show mining damage
The Forest Products Association (FPA) in a flyover media tour in the Essequibo area yesterday compared the damage done by the mining and the logging industries, arguing that logging is friendlier to the environment.
Gold miners mining within the timber concessions in those areas are being accused of destroying the forest by cutting down a vast number of trees to get to the gold, disfiguring the land by doing open pit mining and polluting the waterways, in some cases with mercury.
Following the flyover Kit Nascimento, public relations consultant to the FPA, said it was the miners who were destroying the forest and called for the development of a protocol which would ensure that gold miners are regulated and operate with reasonable environmental controls.
In response, Edwards Shields, executive director of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA), in an interview with Stabroek News said that the flyover was "very subjective" because some areas are in that condition owing to nature itself.
He said that the secret of mining is not how it looks but the arrangement you have to rehabilitate the area after mining.
According to Shields, from the air it would always look like the forest is being destroyed but there is always a rehabilitation plan for the area in place.
"No one is allowed to mine without permission from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)," he stressed.
He informed this newspaper that in Quartz Hill miners now have to put up an environmental bond of $100,000 and prior to that miners in the medium scale category had to pay a $200,000 environmental bond. These monies, he said, are to be used to rehabilitate the areas after mining is completed.
"There is a big difference between forestry and mining. In forestry there is a different plan and you don't have to rehabilitate the land after. With forestry trees are just felled and they are expected to re-grow in 50-60 years," Shields said.
In making his point, he noted that there are places in New Zealand where one would not believe mining took place. He said too that part of the miner's contract stipulates that restoration work must be done.
Pressed for a comment on the pollution of rivers due to mining activity, Shields acknowledged that this is an issue.
The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), he said, is doing a lot of work in that field. Turbidity, he added, is often the cause of this (pollution), which occurs when gravel is turned up.
He said that the question that should be asked is whether the GGMC and EPA have plans to rehabilitate these areas which have been mined and the answer would be yes.
The GGMC has a department that deals with environmental mining and they received over $400M in funding from a Canadian programme to strengthen the commission to tackle this problem.
The Wildlife Fund has also given some $200M to help with this problem, he said.
During the trip, destruction due to mining was evident. In some cases there were huge patches of trees missing. Rivers were discoloured, indicating pollution and water in some instances had settled on parts of the land.
First the group was taken over the Barama Company Limited timber concession at Buck Hall where no evidence of forest destruction was evident. The only places that had gaps were the access roads built by the company. The Mazaharally timber concession indicated a similar situation.
Media workers were told that about nine trees per hectare are felled and loggers do not go back to that area for another 60 years.
However the Cuyuni area told a different tale. On the Rahaman's concession there was evidence of vast mining, which is done by Brazilians. This newspaper was told that what the miners do is "clear cutting", which means that they would cut down everything in their path to get to the gold. In addition, open pit mining is done.
At Arimo, mercury pollution was evident in the waterways and there was a similar situation at Peter's Mine.
The group was also taken over the Willems timber concession, upper Mazaruni, where damage from mining was also evident.
The Willems area has been worked for over 60 years and there is no evidence of damage. That area is best known for its greenheart trees, which take about 60 years to re-grow.
John Willems, past president of the FPA and whose family once operated the Willems timber concession was on the flyover. He said that it has always been best to do selective harvesting because the tree will easily re-grow because of the environment, whereas with mining that will never happen unless the tree is replanted.
There was also evidence of mining destruction in the Takutu area. There is evidence of 3-4 miles of straight clear cutting.
Nascimento told Stabroek News that it is the open pit mining that does the real damage. He said that river dredging does some damage but it is confined to the river banks. The group also saw mining damage in the Oko area.
Yacoob Ally, managing director of Mazaharally and Sons timber business, said that members of the timber industry are the ones who are getting the bad name all the time.
Nascimento later added that one can fly over any area where logging is done and no damage apart from where the roads are will be seen. However on passing over the mining areas, he said, evidence of vast damage will be evident.
He told the media that 99% of loggers are following the rules. According to Nascimento there is no protocol in place and the miners are not bound by restrictions or regulations.
An established protocol for both miners and loggers needs to be established, the FPA says.
Forest concessions are leased to miners so there are two sets of persons operating on the same land. In years gone by this was never allowed to happen.