Conservation Bill:
A turkey filled
 with stuffing

Supporters of the National Conservation Bill would have you believe the legislation is a compromise between environmental protection and economic development.

In a good compromise, there’s something for everyone to like. In a bad compromise, there’s something for everyone to hate. In the National Conservation Bill, nearly everybody should hate nearly everything about it.

The bill neither guarantees the protection of the environment nor does it provide assurance for Cayman Islands landowners and developers.

If you take Environment Minister Wayne Panton at his word, the bill will protect habitat or species only on Crown land — the 6 percent of Grand Cayman that is already under the government’s control. That’s not just the equivalent of “pocket change”; it’s change that be found under the cushions of most sofas. The bill’s supporters should be outraged. It’s not that they’ve been sold short. They’ve been sold out.

On the other hand, the text of the bill itself appears to empower the National Conservation Council — with Cabinet’s approval — to create and enforce species management plans that could impede or stop development, regardless of who owns the land.

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According to the Department of Environment’s explanations (which have been consistent over the years), the law does indeed allow the Council to veto actions by other government entities that might have a harmful impact on “a protected area or on the critical habitat of a protected species.”

While a “protected area” would by definition be land under the Crown’s control, a “critical habitat” would be defined by a species management plan and could include private land.

Bill supporters who admit this possibility go on to say that Cabinet approves species management plans and certainly would not overrule landowners’ objections. Sure.

If Mr. Panton is correct, and the bill is not intended to impact private property, then why doesn’t he put explicit language into the bill that says exactly that? May we suggest he insert his own words from his letter to the Caymanian Compass: “There is absolutely nothing in this bill that gives government the power to prohibit people from altering, developing or using their own land.”

The reason we believe Mr. Panton will never include such unequivocal language is that he is trying to have it both ways: His public posture is that the bill won’t touch private land, while his legislative language says something quite different. It gives government far-reaching control over private property owners’ ability to do what they wish with their land. Every Cayman landowner should oppose this bill AND any legislator who votes for it.

In today’s newspaper we have printed the entire text of the National Conservation Bill in the form of a 12-page supplement.

Most people have never had the opportunity, or felt the need, to read an entire piece of legislation. (At times we wish we could count ourselves among them.)

It’s one thing for a bill to be a turkey (how appropriate that these words will appear on the U.S.’s Thanksgiving Day), but this particular bill is so filled with stuffing — especially obfuscatory legalese — that it is almost impossible to digest. Nevertheless, our most indefatigable readers may still ferret out some gems. Our personal favorites are the snails — which came in first with 87 protected species, followed by the beetles with 25 among their ranks.

We agree with Mr. Panton when he calls on people to attend the district public meetings, which begin on Monday. Don’t be afraid to speak up, but come armed with your own knowledge — and your own bug spray.

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  1. For an area to be designated a critical habitat of a protected species it would have to be included in a conservation plan (Section 17). All conservation plans have to go through public consultation and then gain Cabinet approval.

    Most critical habitats will be in Crown owned Protected Areas. Where a critical habitats of species is on private land, these will be priority areas for the Council to approach the landowners of and offer to purchase the land or to enter management agreements with the Council. If one of these landowner refuses to sell or lease (management agreement) their land, or objects to a critical habitat designation being placed on their land, there is little that the Council can do. The NCL will sadly probably not be able to prevent all of our endemic species from extinction, however it creates mechanisms that gives most a great chance of survival. While not all land owners will be interested in selling or leasing their land to Government or otherwise protecting the critical habitat of an endemic species on their land, I am confident that many will be and many of our unique plants and animals will receive adequate protection under the NCL.

  2. Now.. I could be reading the law wrong.. but I’m pretty sure all those snails are under Part 2 Species that may be hunted or collected (in accordance with regulations or a conservation plan, if any) rather than under the Part 1 Species protected at all times.

  3. So today the Compass resorts to name calling in its sustained campaign against the National Conservation bill. It is ironic that it uses the turkey metaphor as the American wild turkey is an unqualified conservation success story. Due to over hunting and loss of habitat the wild turkey was reduced to a mere 30,000 estimated individuals in the early 20th century. As a result of conservation and prudent game management the population has rebounded and is now in the millions and the species is listed as least concern conservation status. A worthy example to emulate.

    I must say I continue to be confused by the Editors’ declarations which today insist that environmentalist themselves should be unhappy with the bill because it only applies to a small proportion of land which the Editor does not believe. Huh? I don’t quite understand his amusement with the fact that the Cayman Islands have 87 species of snails either. Seems like a thorough scientific catalog, with science a perspective from which the Compass position could gain some degree of credibility but up to now it has disregarded.

    The Compass does offer some degree of assistance by publishing the bill in its print edition. And it does give one bit of helpful advice, to arm oneself, with your own knowledge. Perhaps it should have opened with that?

  4. Katrina,

    I support conservation, but on the issue of whether the government can require a private land owner to sell his or her own land to government for the purposes of conservation I ask you to consider the following.

    You have said: ‘If one of these landowner refuses to sell or lease (management agreement) their land, or objects to a critical habitat designation being placed on their land, there is little that the Council can do.’

    I agree that ‘there is little the Council can do,’ but what ‘the Council can do’ doesn’t tell the whole story, because Cabinet already has all the power it needs to compulsorily ‘acquire’ any parcel of private land and that power is contained in the Land Acquisition Law 1995.

    Section 6(1)(4) of the Land Acquisition Law reads:
    ‘(1) Whenever it appears to the Cabinet that any particular land is needed for a public purpose, a declaration to that effect shall be gazetted.

    4) A declaration under this section shall be conclusive evidence that the land to which it relates is required for a public purpose.’

    Section 7 of the Land Acquisition Law reads:
    ‘(1)Whenever a declaration has been made under section 6 the Cabinet shall, without delay, enter into negotiations for the purchase of the land to which the declaration relates upon reasonable terms (which shall include early possession).

    (2) It shall not be necessary for the Cabinet to await the publication of the declaration before he endeavours to conclude an agreement under this section.

    (3) Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting or delaying the procedure hereinafter provided for the compulsory acquisition of any land.’

    Section 8 of the Land Acquisition Law reads: ‘Where a declaration has been made and published as required by section 6, and where in respect of the land to which the declaration relates the Cabinet is satisfied that-

    (a) it has not been possible to conclude a satisfactory agreement under section 7;

    (b) the negotiations in connection with any such agreement have been or are being unduly delayed; or

    (c) it is not in the public interest to enter into such negotiations,

    the Cabinet may, by order, proceed to acquire and to enter upon and take possession of the land compulsorily in accordance with this Law.’

    After any public consultation under a Conservation Law reflecting the current provisions of the Conservation Bill, a Cabinet could take the position that it has been more than reasonable with the private land owner(s) and decide to ‘acquire’ the private land under the Land Acquisition Law. So where the question is whether the government can require a private land owners to sell their land to government for the purposes of conservation, how long the government is required to consult on the matter irrelevant.

    Do you agree?