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Feb 2, 2018

Protecting Wetland Sanctuary in Crooked Tree

Every year since 1998, Belize has been celebrating World Wetlands Day, but even before that, in 1984, Crooked Tree was designated as a wildlife sanctuary. Crooked Tree is a waterfowl habitat, under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and is known for the annual cashew festival. To further the sustainability of the wetland, today a short-term agreement was signed that will bring together residents of the village with government agencies to promote conservation practices. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

World Wetlands Day is recognized annually on February second; this year, under the theme “Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future.” In Belize, there are two areas with the designation of international importance: the Sarstoon Temash National Park and the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. These areas play a significant role in terms of flood mitigation and clean water supply. The area, although protected under the law, provides food and income to its residents.

 

Omar Figueroa

Dr. Omar Figueroa, Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry and Climate Change

“Crooked tree as we all know is designated as a Ramsar site which means it is a wetland of international importance. And there are so many reasons why Crooked Tree is designated a wetland of international importance. Locally it serves as a buffer; it protects the entire central area of Belize against flooding. It has an important role to play against the impacts of climate change.”

 

The area is rich with traditional history and uses; including the annual fish haul and logging, as well as hunting in Crooked Tree. This has been allowed through its designation as a Wildlife Sanctuary Two under the Protected Areas System Act of 2015.

 

Amanda Burgos-Acosta

Amanda Burgos-Acosta, Executive Director, Belize Audubon Society

“In 1984, it was designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary. What that did though is even though it protected this fantastic area which is the reservoir and the sponge for the flood waters from the Maya Mountains, the Chiquibul it ends up in here. This is the overflow location in essence and it serves for the protection of the flood plains and the lower Belize River Valley. We have the passing of the new Protected Areas System Act and that has an allocation for a designation called Wildlife Sanctuary Two. It still recognizes the ecological importance of this location, but it will now allow for traditional usage.”

 

But the event was two-fold because G.O.B. endorsed a memorandum of understanding with stakeholders including the Crooked Tree Village Council. It will serve as a platform for dialogue between government agencies and village reps for community involvement in the sustainability of the protected area. Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry and Climate Change, Doctor Omar Figueroa says that this new direction is dear to his heart because fifteen years ago, he did research and surveys within the area.

 

Dr. Omar Figueroa

“Across the entire region, Crooked Tree is perhaps one of the most unique, one of the more important wetland systems. And so what the villagers of Crooked Tree have in this area is really a jewel that if managed properly, if managed sustainably could be here well, well into the foreseeable future. So I want to thank everybody for coming to the table and trying to forge a way forward in a sustainable manner for what is clearly, in my opinion, one of the more important natural areas of our country and in fact the region.”

 

The M.O.U. is short-term and will span an eleven-month period for dialoguing. Executive Director of the Belize Audubon Society, Amanda Burgos-Acosta says it is expected to bring a final resolution to standoffs between residents and the managers of the protected area.

 

Amanda Burgos-Acosta

“They always say that it takes conflict sometimes to bring people together to dialogue. So since then, we have been working with the forest department, the fisheries department and the village council and we have been having dialogues as to how to move forward and what are the root problems and how we can move forward in Crooked Tree.  We’ve had a little bit of responsibility reassignment and roles. The Village Council will be more involved in the haul days and the logging process—the petty permits that allow for logwood extraction in this area. And it really is a measure for confidence building, for trust building, for us to find a way and a path forward.  We have also secured funding along with the Forest Department from GIZ Selva Maya Project that will be helping us to move forward and have the consultations and draft up this new legislation and what we will look at.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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