Features — 30 July 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Not so fast, Hon. Lisel!

The new co-management agreement is “a bad deal for protected areas…” says APAMO

Chairman of the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations (APAMO), Edilberto Romero, called a press conference today to respond to declarations made by Forestry Minister Lisel Alamilla, who said that the NGO community which co-manages protected areas in Belize is gradually coming on-board with signing new co-management agreements, without any pressure from the Government.

Romero went on to present the chairman of the Rancho Dolores Environmental and Development Group – Raymond Reneau – who told the media that they do not agree with the new template for the contracts, and they are particularly concerned about a clause in the document that talks about the entry of third parties on the protected areas under co-management.

According to the APAMO Chairman, “The co-management agreement opens all the protected areas to oil exploration and development; and there is still no appropriate zonation and guidelines to safeguard the protected areas and the watersheds. The Government can terminate the agreement if they ascertain that you exceed the scope of the agreement.”

He said that this clause may be used to target those who are vocal on issues. Romero said that the new co-management agreement is “a bad deal for protected areas…”

Romero said that APAMO had developed a co-management template and framework with the stakeholders, the Forestry Department and the Fisheries Department; but Government took it and changed it completely—effecting changes which he said place protected areas at serious risk.

“Definitely, it’s something that is not good for protected areas management… all the co-managers had issues with that, even YCT [Ya’axche Conservation Trust, which the minister formerly managed] or TIDE had issues with that – even though they were the first to sign…”

APAMO, said Romero, had asked for adequate consultation and approval by co-managers based on their management plan and zonation before third parties are allowed to enter the protected areas they co-manage.

Last week, Greg Ch’oc, Executive Director of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), told the media that the Maya villages which form the buffer communities for the Sarstoon Temash National Park (Park) had instructed him not to sign the document until they get a better deal.

“I tabled the co-management agreement to the five buffer communities around the park and they have ordered SATIIM not to sign any agreement until an agreement is reached that is more favorable to the communities,” he told the press.

Minister Alamilla told journalists last week that Ch’oc was “playing games,” since he had previously given the Forestry Department a date on which he would be ready to sign – but he never did.

Today, Romero said that it is the minister who has been playing games – this, he said, because she has been using what he describes as a “divide and conquer tactic” to get APAMO members to sign. Romero said that NGOs are told that if they don’t sign, they will be left out.

Last, Ch’oc presented the media with a July 17 letter from the Chief Forest Officer, Wilber Sabido, in which SATIIM was told that it can no longer access the national park; and it should refrain from conducting business there. But a defiant Ch’oc said he refuses to heed, since the park sits on ancestral land, acknowledged in rulings by the courts of Belize.

Romero said that SATIIM has a higher capacity to withstand pressure, and that is why Ch’oc has been accused of “playing games.”

Marcel Alamina, president of Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary—which he said is under major threat from a proposed cruise development—told Amandala today that the new co-management agreement introduces a lot of changes from the original and “dis just no di jell!”

He told us that the revenue-sharing arrangement in the new document is also a concern; and so too is the portion of the agreement that limits the commitment to 5 years.

Romero informed at the APAMO press conference today that the duration of the contracts, now limited to five years, is one of the major issues. Minister Alamilla was saying 100 years; but APAMO never requested 100 years – it requested 40 years, because it is a reasonable rotation cycle for timber, in instances where management involves forests, to ensure sustainability, he said.

According to Romero, the 40-year cycle would also enable them to have more flexibility when seeking funding in more innovative ways. Carbon projects, for example, are 40-year projects; some funding programs, such as the debt-for-nature swap, run long-term cycles.

“That is flaky,” Alamina commented, in speaking with us on the matter of the short contract duration. According to the NGOs, they have been told that this is the last week for them to sign; however, Alamina told us that they will not sign until the timeline is fixed.

Raymond Reneau, chairman of the Rancho Dolores Environmental and Development Group, told Amandala that they have been co-managing the Spanish Creek Wildlife Sanctuary since 1998, since villagers from the farming, hunting and fishing community decided to conserve 5,985 acres of land and about 7 miles of the Spanish Creek, in the Belize River Valley area.

Reneau told us that his main concern is the new clause that says Government only needs to consult with the co-managers to bring in a “third party” – which could be an oil exploration company or loggers. He said that they really don’t know what the Government has in mind, but consulting can mean an e-mail or phone call; or just a letter.

Reneau said that they are disappointed that the draft taken to Cabinet for presentation was not the one that was returned to them for signing.

Last week, Minister Alamilla said that some NGOs had already signed.

There are 94 protected areas in Belize. They include 20 forest reserves and 17 marine reserves which make up 50 percent of protected areas and 13 percent of national territory. There are also 16 national parks, 5 natural monuments, 3 nature reserves, 7 wildlife sanctuaries, 12 archaeological reserves, 6 bird sanctuaries, 8 private protected areas, and mangrove reserves.

About 26% of Belize or 2.6 million acres is under some form of protection, but only 9.3% under strict protection, with limits on extraction of natural resources from those sites, Romero told the press.

Of the 94 protected areas, APAMO members are co-managing 24 protected areas covering close to 800,000 acres or 33 % of the total area under protection. Government can’t finance the management of NGOs. At the recently held Chiquibul forum, Minister Alamilla said that the management of Belize’s protected areas would require $40 million a year.

Romero pointed that out that it has been over a year since Cabinet approved the new co-management agreements, and the NGOs have resisted signing. He said that Government is using PACT, a local funding agency for environmental NGOs, as a way to force co-managers to sign, since the deadline has arrived for proposals to PACT.

(Amandala thanks KREM Radio News for assisting us with this report.)

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