The recently installed Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, Lisel Alamilla, formerly the executive director of Ya’axché Conservation Trust (YCT), has invoked a moratorium on the harvesting and exportation of Belizean rosewood, Dalbergia stevensonii, with immediate effect.
Last week, Alamilla, under whose portfolio the Forestry Department now falls, told our newspaper that she had indicated to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, upon her ministerial appointment, that she has a list of about 100 things to get done. She told us today that the moratorium was on the top of that list.
As head of YCT, Alamilla had advocated for a moratorium on rosewood, but Government did not agree. Prime Minister Barrow had conceded, though, to an assessment, but Alamilla vocalized concerns over the way it was being done.
As for the expected outcome of the ongoing rosewood assessment, Alamilla said that her technical staff would advise her on how the situation could be best managed so as not to have negative effects on the communities involved. She said they will do all in their power to ensure that communities do not suffer any losses.
Chief Forest Officer Wilber Sabido told Amandala today that whereas the moratorium has taken immediate effect, the ministry has decided that the exportation of 7 to 8 containers, which have the capacity for about 80,000 board feet of rosewood, could proceed, since the Forest Department and the Supplies Control Board had already given authorization for their export.
Sabido added that as of Friday, there can be no sanctioned harvesting and no permits are to be issued for rosewood.
The Forest Department is now tasked with ensuring on-the-ground compliance with the moratorium. According to Sabido, they will dispatch 7 more staff members to the Punta Gorda/Machaca Forest Station, including senior staff, and the transfer process has already been initiated with the Ministry of the Public Service and the Public Services Commission.
In the meantime, said Sabido, they are sending support staff to aid the two persons working at Machaca, and they are providing increased logistical support for that PG station.
The Forest Department had already begun a rosewood assessment; but Sabido indicated that with Alamilla’s previously stated concerns about the methodology, they may have to start over. They are now looking at the end of April to complete the rosewood assessment.
The NGO which had been partnering with government for the assessment is YCT, which Sabido said is the only one of several organizations invited, which actually came onboard, perhaps due to financial constraints.
The Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) had awarded the Forest Department a $50,000 grant for the rosewood assessment project, which, Sabido said, was used to purchase equipment, as well as logistical support and mobilization of vehicles, and the hiring of temporary staff for the rosewood assessment.
He told us that the department will make recommendations following the rosewood assessment, which should lead to a more rigorous forest management of the species. The assessment should also indicate whether harvesting can continue at the level it had been, and if that is the case, it is likely that the moratorium would be lifted.
Wil Maheia, a conservationist who has been vocal on the rosewood problem in Toledo, said the moratorium is a good thing.
He clarified that they were not opposed to the cutting of rosewood but were concerned about the unsustainable manner in which it was being harvested.
Maheia expressed the hope that the industry could be properly developed to create more jobs, and also to ensure that laborers are paid fairer wages for their hard work.
The Maya Leaders Alliance had expressed grave concerns over the illegal logging of rosewood, “mostly under cover of darkness.”
They had indicated to us that rosewood is rare and exists only in small pockets in Toledo. Whereas the harvesting was largely for export to China, it had been noted that rosewood is used domestically for the posts of houses, and is commonly used in Maya communities.
We were unable to reach MLA at its office number for comment on the moratorium.
The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) has also commended the move to effect the moratorium: “We recognize this as the first positive and assertive step in mitigating the environmental crisis caused by the unregulated harvesting of rosewood in Toledo, which has threatened the survival of the hardwood species in Belize and potentially increases the negative impacts of climate change on our region. It is important that we jointly put into place rigorous and long-term measures that will ensure a healthy forest and the sustainable continuity of our forest resources,” the organization said in a statement.
SATIIM’s executive director, Gregory Ch’oc, said: “The Government’s moratorium on the cutting and selling of rosewood presents ‘an opportunity for all of us, including communities and government, to reconcile national forest policies and the practical realities of our communities in the south by putting in place effective measures to ensure the sustainable use of our forest resources.’”