Features — 15 March 2013 — by Adele Ramos

Illegal activities increase risk of forest fires

“Clearing of forest this year is more aggressive… By the end of March this could have doubled…” FCD Exec Director, Rafael Manzanero said.

Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), Rafael Manzanero, has informed Amandala that 2 aerial flights conducted with the help of LightHawk and the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) on February 15 and March 5, 2013, indicate increasing incursions, and particularly clearings by Guatemalans for farming and settlements.

Manzanero said that “…clearing of forest this year is more aggressive and we anticipate that forest fires in the Chiquibul this year will be high. In the next six months this will all be crops and it will be difficult to extract people.”

The image accompanying this article shows a composite map from the two flyovers along the Belize-Guatemala border, which indicate new developments for 2013.

Forty-six new clearings were reported along with nine illegal settlements—this excluding the residence of Guatemalan Rigoberto Gutierrez, who has been residing within the protected area for over two decades.

“By the end of March this [clearing] could have doubled, since under-brushing of forest is still occurring,” Manzanero said.

The furthest clearing recorded for 2013 was 4.2 kilometers or 2.6 miles into Belize, and the furthest settlement 2.3 kilometers or 1.4 miles into Belize, well beyond the area termed the “adjacency zone,” which, as defined under the OAS facilitation process, extends only a kilometer into Belize’s border. Those areas are specifically North Valentin, Cebada and South Cebada.

The Confidence Building Measures signed by Belize and Guatemala back in September 2005 say, “There shall be no new Guatemalan settlers joining any settlement to the East of the Adjacency Line, and no extension of any existing settlement after 1 October 2000.

“The Government of Guatemala will take effective measures to dissuade its citizens and/or residents from establishing new settlements, or joining existing settlements, to the east of the Adjacency Line [which is Belize’s borderline].”

The flyovers registered 28 new clearings and 4 settlements beyond the adjacency zone. The FCD report notes that the acreage of the clearings could not yet be determined.

In reporting on the escalating incursions, Manzanero recommends the following actions:

(1) This matter of the slash and burning in the Chiquibul is an urgent matter and should be addressed immediately.

(2) An assessment of impacts must be conducted using satellite images, GIS and ‘ground truthing’ [a data collection technique].

(3) Stop the clearings and avoid burning of the fields.

(4) Mobilize units and detain encroachers.

(5) Belize should do a diplomatic exchange of note immediately.

(6) Get high officials to fly over the Chiquibul.

Manzanero said, “The acreage of the clearings cannot be estimated from this assessment and [illegal] clearing is still being conducted for this summer.”


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