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Jun 18, 2015

New Fire Tower for Rio Bravo Protected Area

Nestled in the far reaches of the Belize River Valley is the Rio Bravo Protected Area, a large and lushly forested zone where flora and fauna thrive. But like other protected areas countrywide, there is the need for constant surveillance and on the ground management to ensure that the nation’s natural riches are conserved and even enhanced for generations to come. It’s a full time job and a half, entrusted to the N.G.O., Programme for Belize. Today, that entity officially inaugurated a fire-tower at its conservation post in Hillbank, and our News Five team was there. Mike Rudon has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

About half an hour from Rancho Dolores, over a road that the rains have rendered treacherous, is the Programme for Belize Conservation post at the eastern gate of the Rio Bravo protected area. Rio Bravo is a vast forest reserve, about a quarter million acres. It stretches from Rancho Dolores in the Belize River Valley all the way west to the Belize/Guatemala border. Programme for Belize is the N.G.O. tasked with monitoring, managing and preserving the area known and prized for its high biodiversity.

 

Edilberto Romero

Edilberto Romero, Executive Director, Programme for Belize

“It has twenty-one ecosystems which include aquatic ecosystems. It has eighty species of mammals including the jaguars, pumas, margays, ocelots, jaguarundis, peccaries, gibnuts, howler monkeys…there’s 15 mammal species of conservation concern. There’s three hundred and ninety species of birds, of which twenty percent are migratory species and twenty are species of conservation concern. It has two hundred species of trees – we’re talking about trees and not herbaceous plants…thirty species of freshwater fish and lots of insects, reptiles, frogs…it’s known for its high bio-diversity in the region, and of course it’s a major node that connects with the biological corridors in Guatemala and Mexico and the central and northern corridors in Belize.”

 

Apart from the logistical difficulties inherent in patrolling an area so immense, PFB Rangers are challenged by hunters, poachers and illegal loggers who take advantage of the very resources which make the area so naturally valuable.

 

Edilberto Romero

“The pine savannahs go all the way to the border. Pine savannahs are pretty much open so people could easily come to do hunting or poaching of yellow-head parrots. Those are major challenges for us. The people that come to do illegal logging in our area are people from the communities in our area, which means that we have to be working a lot with the communities. Our new management plan calls for a lot more communication outreach and advocacy so we will be working a lot more with the communities. We find that once we work a lot with the communities and we have our protection program working we keep it under control. But we can’t relax. We have two vehicles dedicated to protection. We have nine to ten rangers dedicated to protection and we have our entry points that have persons protecting it every day, twenty-four hours of the day.” 

 

Those are man-made challenges which are difficult to contain, and there is another challenge which is just as difficult to deal with. Fires are harder to predict, and have the potential to wreak terrible destruction. For the Rangers of the Rio Bravo, the first pillar of the fire management plan is the monitoring and detection of fires, and that where this sixty feet observation tower comes into play.

 

Edilberto Romero

“Once you detect a fire there are other steps that come in. We have people that would assess it to see if it could easily be suppressed, or it would naturally die because of where it is going, or whether we need to bring more equipment and people to deal with it. So what we had before is a small fire-tower that is just about forty feet high. That was done in 1990. It’s a single cement column tower which has passed its lifetime. It’s no longer safe, and it’s also low. So with the funding we got from PACT we were able to do this sixty feet, stainless steel fire tower and from there we have a higher view and we can see a larger area, basically the entire pine savannah so we could detect if there’s any fires coming in or starting.”

 

The tower has actually been in use since the last dry season, and was instrumental in the early detection of ten fires. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

Today, Programme for Belize also spoke briefly about its management plan for the next five years where the Rio Bravo Protected Area is concerned.

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