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Apr 28, 2017

F.C.D. Takes News Five on Flight Over Troubled Chiquibul

Illegal activities continue deep in the Chiqubul where the forests are under serious attack. Gold-panning of late has become one of the most lucrative activities attracting Guatemalan nationals. In a fly-over today with Friends for Conservation, which manages the natural reserve, the denuding of the thick forests is also highly visible. Slash and burn practices are destroying huge tracts of land in the southern area of the forest. But can the Chiqubul withstand the continued plundering? News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The Chiquibul Forest Reserve, despite all efforts to safeguard this vast expanse of wilderness, remains under constant threat from Guatemalan peasants residing in nearby communities along the western border.  This massive protected area lies wholly within the Greater Maya Mountains and covers approximately two hundred and thirty-one square miles.  It is by far, the largest managed reserve in Belize.  To better understand the scale of damage being done to the Chiquibul, we joined Friends for Conservation and Development for an aerial survey of the region.

 

Derrick Chan

Derrick Chan, Park Manager, Chiquibul National Park

“This was our fifth flight for this year.  We usually start in January.  These flights are done to monitor the slash and burning season.  Pretty much this time of the year, starting from January, this time is when we would have people cut forest and burn it, right.  So that’s a given.  Every year we see that.”

 

The view from above is magnificent.  The breadth of the massif beneath shows the range of the Maya Mountains.  A closer look, however, reveals the wholesale despoliation of the forest cover.

 

Derrick Chan

“What we have seen today is very impressive, you know, and it’s very sad because we see a lot of clearance.  The area in south Chiquibul, it’s called the South Cebada are, the illegal Guatemalans I’ll say, because, as you know, they are illegal Guatemalans, they have advanced fantastic.  At this time I cannot really quantify. Very easily they have gone four kilometers inside.  What I noticed is the area of South Cebada, five years ago when we were patrolling that area they abandoned the area.  But they have come back just this year.”

 

…and their abrupt return has proven to be far more devastating.  The earth below is swathed by vegetation which makes it a lot easier to observe the damage from above.  Occasionally, there’s a plume of white smoke wafting into the air, followed by huge tracts of cleared land.  In just two months, these illegal farmers have made significant progress denuding the forest.

 

Derrick Chan

“Then also along the border, we saw a lot of burning and a lot of cattle ranching.  Of course, pretty much all of this we have already recorded it, we just wanted to see what’s the new activity.  But what is more, what stands out is the burning, and we knew this was going to happen because of Hurricane Earl.  It accumulated a lot of fuel, a lot of fallen forest and, of course, the milpas, the slash and burning that’s what starts the fire as the traditional way of preparing the land.”

 

On the ground, out of view from the prying lens of our camera, another type of illicit activity is underway.  Gold panning has also taken root here.  Deep in the rough country, a team of men is busy extracting the precious mineral from the waterways that cross the Chiquibul.  We know they are there because gold panning has been on the rise in recent weeks.

 

Derrick Chan

“Currently we are doing a study of the macro invertebrates and we are trying to understand right now what defines that.  What happens is that gold panners they don’t only extract gold, it’s not like pulling out gold from a rock and going home.  To do that they have to really plow all the rocks from the river banks and by doing that they are also destroying the forest by removing the rocks, big rocks, really big boulders.  Piece by piece they will do this and trees fall, they just tumble over.  And what this creates, it completely changes the regime of the water system of the creeks and tributaries.  It creates a lot of sedimentation and erosion as it flows down.  But apart from that, the people who are doing this illegal activity, they cut a lot of other trees and palms for food.  They hunt and they create a lot of garbage and waste.”

 

That refuse, along with human waste, ultimately finds its way into the various watersheds.  Fecal coliform is bacteria that originates in the intestines of warm-blooded animals.  Its presence in aquatic environments is perhaps an indication that the water has been contaminated with fecal material from humans or other animals.  This can be the result of direct discharge of waste from mammals and birds, agricultural and storm effluence or from human sewage.

 

Derrick Chan

“Using the toilets is a problem.  They defecate in the water or near the water and all of this is going downstream which is the main for the Mopan, the Chiquibul and the Belize River eventually.  And there is a bigger problem.  What we have seen is that they light fires.  They create forest fires.  We don’t know exactly why they do it.  Probably it’s for spite or maybe just to clear the land so that they could see when the patrol is coming.”

 

Whatever the reason, the Chiquibul is under direct attack and begs the question whether more can be done through political will to defend it from illegal farmers. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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1 Response for “F.C.D. Takes News Five on Flight Over Troubled Chiquibul”

  1. Steve odell says:

    Why don’t you do something about it? Leave the BDF in there all of the time. If the government won’t order it, then PROTEST, till they do. Stop waiting.4ewf

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