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Aug 1, 2017

Conservation post addresses continuing threats to Chiquibul Forest

The Chiquibul forest is being pillaged by gold panners and cattle ranchers, who illegally cross into the national forests to ply the lucrative trade. Friends for Conservation and Development has been monitoring the illicit activities, but its resources are spread thin to contain the exploitation of the natural resources. This Monday, a conservation post was officially inaugurated in the Caballo area; nine kilometers north of the Caracol Archeological Site, to manage and protect the vast expanse. The initiative was funded by the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) and the Environmental Management Fun. News Five’s Duane Moody returns to the Chiquibul and files the following report.


Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director, Friends for Conservation and Development

Rafael Manzanero

“It is really a serious problem. Gold panning and cattle ranching/milpa farming are the two main challenges right now that we face in the Chiquibul.”


Duane Moody, Reporting

The Chiquibul Forest is the largest protected area in Belize, representing almost eight percent of the country’s terrestrial surface. For decades, it has been under threat from illegal incursions by loggers, poachers, xateros, and now primarily by cattle ranchers and gold panners.  Since the 1980’s, over twelve thousand acres of land have been lost as a result of the agricultural frontier expansion. A flyover by the B.D.F. chopper within the adjacency zone in the Caballo area shows large areas of the forest cleared by Guatemalans for cattle ranching and settlements several miles east of the border, in Belizean territory.


Rafael Manzanero

“This area was identified because it is a hotspot which basically means that there has been activities documented. And just across from here as we look into the western flank of the park, behind some of the mountains, you will find one or two small settlements of Guatemalans. So we already know that these are areas that practically will have a mobilization of people from time to time. In fact, here where we are, it has already been used before. So what you can see is basically more a secondary forest that has been used over the years. It is being reclaimed now, but that doesn’t mean that other areas are not being cleared, north and south of this zone.”


While there are ongoing works to install other access roads and conservation posts to better monitor and mitigate the illegal activities, the Chiquibul Forest Investment Initiative is proceeding full speed. The two point one-seven-six million dollar project, funded by PACT and the Environmental Management Fund, seeks to strengthen enforcement and protection of the national park. In May of this year, a fleet of vehicles was donated and on Monday, a conservation post was officially inaugurated in the Caballo area, nine kilometers north of the Caracol Archeological Site and one point four kilometers from the adjacency line. This project came at a cost of one hundred and fifteen thousand dollars.


Omar Figueroa, Minister of State, Environment

Omar Figueroa

“The extremely important, but very challenging task of protecting the ecological and territorial integrity of this immense landscape is today made a little bit easier with the inauguration of this strategic conservation post. The conservation post along with our joint efforts will help to prevent the further exploitation of the natural and cultural resources of our country.”


Dr. Percival Cho

Dr. Percival Cho, Chairman, PACT

“The construction of the Caballo Conservation Post is but one part of a larger goal aimed at encouraging a multi-institutional approach to strengthen the capacity for joint law-enforcement and protection of the Chiquibul.”


Omar Figueroa

“The difficulty of access and the remoteness of the Chiquibul area is one that has aided in facilitating illegal activities for so many years. For one it restricts the presence of management organizations and allows would-be encroachers almost limitless access and opportunity to illegally exploit our natural resources.”

And that remoteness was clearly felt as the caravan traveled through the dense forest to the Caballo Conservation Post several miles from the Tapir Camp in the heart of the Chiquibul. The trek was arduous; escorted by officers of the Belize Defense Force, whose mandate it is to protect the territorial integrity of the country.


Felix Enriquez

Felix Enriquez, C.E.O., Ministry of Defense

“We have the limitations of scarce resources; we have the limitations of a very rugged terrain, especially during the hurricane season. We have the limitations of a more aggressive set of people coming to disrupt the conservative effort that the FCD makes, that the Forestry Department makes and amidst all of this, we are very aware that there are illicit activities in this area as well. Illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling even and the task grows more and more complicated.”


The new facility which will house up to fourteen persons from the joint patrol was constructed by the Bull Ridge Company Limited within four weeks. It provides a resting place for the rangers, the B.D.F., the police and the Forestry Department.


Lt. Col. Anthony Velasquez, Commander, First Inventory Battalion, B.D.F.

Lt Col Anthony Velasquez

“This will be our patrol base at Caballo and our aim is to dominate the surrounding ground and terrain. As we know from here, we are only about a mile from the adjacency zone where most of the illegal activities are occurring. And our aim is to deter that illegal activity as much as possible.”


Meanwhile, gold panning activities have been on the rise, threatening the local headwaters in the southern part of the Chiquibul. The terrain is rugged and access by rangers to the area is no easy task. Executive Director Rafael Manzanero fears that the Guatemalan panners won’t stop until they’ve extracted all the gold minerals in the area.


Rafael Manzanero

“Gold panning has been ongoing for quite some years. In fact there is another building like this in the zone which is in the volcanic in the southern part of the Chiquibul, which is the Ceibo Chico Conservation Post. The idea of putting that one was basically also to contain the gold panners in that area. Since the last three years of active presence in the zone, we still have not been able to contain that. Gold panning continues to occur; Guatemalans have changed now their activities from day time to night time and so it makes it more difficult to contain the issue.”


Duane Moody for News Five.


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