Loggers are planning to file an injunction against the Government as it moves to offer larger acreages of prime teak and pine fields to large scale saw millers.
The threat of litigation comes despite assurances from Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat that the new changes in the distribution of lucrative teak fields will not trigger massive job loss and decimation of small scale sawmilling operations.
The loggers believe that granting more precious resource to large scale saw millers and furniture owners will cause over-exploitation of the forests at a time when deforestation was at crisis levels. A report from the Environmental Management Authority in 2012 stated that T&T had a 32 per cent forest cover, with an average decrease of 0.31 per cent per year.
The loggers also expressed concerns that the granting of larger teak acreages to large saw millers will force a monopoly in the teak industry, driving up teak prices and possibly lead to a closure of small scale operators.
One saw miller, who requested anonymity, said, "For some weeks now we are being told that the lottery system will be disbanded and only the larger saw millers will get sizable fields. Why can't everyone be given a five-acre parcel and when they complete that five-acre block, they can apply for another?"
The lottery system came about in 2014 and was aimed at ensuring the equitable distribution of state timber resources to eligible saw millers.
The State currently owns approximately 10,000 hectares of Teak and 4,500 hectares of Caribbean Pine.
The fields, which are a valuable source of income and livelihood for many citizens, were meant to supply the sawmilling industry with raw-material at a controlled rate. Exportation of the teak was banned for some saw millers as the government sought to protect the resource from overexploitation.
However, with the new changes to the distribution for large saw millers, rumours surfaced that smaller saw millers will no longer be getting five acre plots.
"If this happens, people will go out of business. They will have no wood to produce lumber and the first thing saw millers will be forced to do is cut staff," the official added.
However, Rambharat denied that this will happen.
" The lottery system is still in place and no one is prejudiced. All saw millers were entitled to the same acreage and if they completed that allocation any saw miller could get a second allocation, " he said.
He added, "The only change now is that small saw millers will get the usual size plot and if completed they can get another plot."
Rambharat further explained that " medium and large saw millers will get more acreage because of their capacity. The small saw millers get exactly what they have always been able to get."
However, some of the saw millers said this will create depletion of forest reserves. The saw millers say they will file an injunction if the government moves to change the existing lottery system and offer larger quantities of teak fields to larger saw millers.