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Illegal loggers charged; the “boss” gets off

HeadlineIllegal loggers charged; the “boss” gets off

Photo: Carlos Juan, boss

The discovery of a makeshift lumberyard operation just north of Antelope Hill in Mayflower Bocawina National Park resulted in the arrest of three illegal loggers and possibly saved many decades-old trees in the area. 

by Marco Lopez

BELMOPAN, Thurs. Mar. 9, 2023

A patrol from the Mayflower Bocawina Environmental and Development Group in a joint operation with police on Monday, March 6, came across an illegal logging operation within the protected area. The rich hardwood canopying the remote areas of the Mayflower Bocawina National Park remain in high demand for loggers, and over the long holiday weekend the patrol arrested a group of three after their boss – the alleged organizer of the operation – was unable to present valid logging permits for the area.

The three men have since been charged with illegal possession of forest produce – after shredded and cut lumber was found at the scene. Two high-power commercial-grade chainsaws were also found in the area, and those alerted the patrol to the operation that was taking place.

According to the official report from park rangers, the rangers left their visitor’s center around 8:30 a.m. and took the Antelope Waterfall trail in the national park before arriving at Antelope Hill, north of the area where the illegal operation was ongoing. The patrol had been searching for the illegal set-up since February 22, after first finding tractor trails on the forest floor.

Shortly after, they saw some trees which had already been felled and chopped up into lumber that was being taken out of the national park on some freshly made “picado” roads. The patrol found the operator of the chainsaw and two other men with him in the area. The men were escorted out of the national park by the police and park rangers and were taken to the Hopkins Police Station. Their boss, Carlos Juan, had told the officers that he would be presenting to them a permit but did not return to the station. As a result, the three men were charged.

In an interview conducted by KREM News, Chief Forest Officer Wilber Sabido said that the law does not provide for the men’s employer, Juan, to be charged for aiding in the commission of illegal logging. There are reports, however, that the detainees were allegedly released after forest officers had erroneously informed the park rangers that the loggers did have a permit. Sabido could not confirm if this was so, and said it would require some looking into.

APAMO’s Executive Director, Jose Perez, praised the work of the rangers in disrupting the operation, but said that they have received persistent reports of illegal activity and deforestation within national parks throughout Belize.

“Thanks to the very good work of the rangers that they came across this group; but it is not now that we had a report of illegal logging activity, and as I said, it’s very disheartening to see what is happening out here,” Perez said.

He suggested that encroachment on national parks occurs frequently when loggers decide to operate on the periphery of those protected areas. He also noted that entering the national parks from across the border is an easier way to encroach on those areas, which have no buffer in place – something Perez feels may help reduce illegal activity within those important ecosystems.

Interestingly, he frankly acknowledged that while the “small men” were arrested and charged in this instance, there is no doubt that much bigger players are behind the scenes supporting the illegal operation.

“This trade is well organized; it is not just a bunch of people coming out here to cut the prized hard lumber that we have. As you can see, there were beautiful pieces of Santa Maria, Mahogany; this is not something that a small man is doing. There are definitely the big people involved,” Perez said.

He believes that the issues have to be addressed systematically, by strengthening the synergies among stakeholders, which include the co-managers of protected areas and also the government.

“Many times it’s the small man that is caught on site, but this is not a small man operation. This is unacceptable. We pride ourselves in being a green country. We pride ourselves of being eco- friendly. Our branding, our tourism product is natural resources-based; and disrupting on one hand we are protecting, and on the other hand, we have – as I said – people who have monies to finance these kinds of operation destroying our forest. So we have to come together and try to address this,” Perez said.

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To – David

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