Features — 16 February 2016 — by Adele Ramos

BENQUE VIEJO DEL CARMEN, Cayo, Thurs. Feb. 11, 2016–January and February 2016 have seen an upsurge of illegal clearings inside the Chiquibul Forest, according to a report released this week by Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), which said that it has observed 17 new clearings and several thatch-roof dwellings illegally erected inside Belize.

The report also says that satellite imagery analysis and interpretation up to October 2015 has shown that a total of 3,772.5 ha (or roughly 15 square miles) had been deforested.

The FCD report was filed after the NGO, which co-manages the Chiquibul National Park, did a flyover of the area two days ago, on February 9, 2016. This was the first flight of several which they hope to conduct as the dry season progresses.

“From the small Cessna airplane, large clearings of primary forest were observed. These clearings appear to be fresh, indicating that the milpa activity is starting and may progress rapidly as the dry season sets in,” the FCD report warned.

It added that the northern section of the Caracol Archaeological Reserve and on the southern region of the Chiquibul known as Cebada are the most impacted.

The NGO is now calling for “the activation of patrols and operations to suppress the advance” of the milperos.

Today FCD’s Executive Director, Dr. Rafael Manzanero, told our newspaper that the operations by Belize law enforcement teams “need to be much more aggressive.” The FCD has recommended that efforts should be launched on the ground before the dry weather sets in—not after the clearings have been done, razing several acres of Belizean forest.

We tried to get comment from Belize Defence Force Commander, Brigadier-General David Jones, on the matter but were advised that he is not in Belize and had not been apprised of the FCD report.

The FCD said that warnings are being aired in Guatemala to dissuade Guatemalan civilians from illegally clearing milpa farms in Belize. FCD’s sister agency in Guatemala, Asociación Balam, has been airing messages in both Spanish and Kekchi on 4 radio stations in target communities from which it is believed that the milperos come to illegally farm inside Belize.

Manzanero said that under new provisions of the National Protected Areas Act, just passed, the fine for any destruction of Belizean forest under protection can be as high as BZ$20,000, with a prison term of up to 2 years. He said that when a Guatemalan was caught a few weeks ago, he was charged $5,000 instead of the $500 that would have been levied under the old law.

FCD notes that, “Deforestation as a consequence of agricultural encroachments in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve and Chiquibul National Park, remains one of the main threats to the ecological and cultural integrity of the forest.”

FCD calls for efforts to reduce the forest losses through concerted coordinated action.


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