Rangers deputised to better police parks
When you think of Belize’s extensive system of protected areas, the first things that come to mind are majestic forests, cascading waterfalls, and idyllic beaches. And while this assessment is absolutely true, what you may not realise is that this natural paradise is not immune to the same social ills that afflict the rest of society. This week the people who run our parks are learning to deal with the situation.
Jacqueline Godwin, Reporting
As park rangers these men not only have to work in remote and rugged areas but in their line of duty they face many threats. Peter Garcia had been on the job for only three months when he had to face a man armed with a machete.
Peter Garcia, Park Ranger, Guanacaste National Park
“I met a guy who is a herbalist, I believe, extracting out some contribo vines and so forth. For him to get those vines he had to cut down a tree because these vines are on the upper canopy of that tree. That guy had a machete in his hand and we as rangers we don’t really have any kind of weapons or so forth and the only thing we could have done with this guy was tell him to leave the park, and he was in a protected area, and which he refused to do.”
The man eventually left the Guanacaste National Park. Today, Garcia along with eighteen other park rangers from all over the country, are arming themselves with the necessary tools to handle all kinds of danger. They are being trained to be special constables and for one week the seventeen men and one woman have been attending classes at the police training academy in Belmopan.
Assistant Superintendent Sandra Bowden, Commandant, Police Training Academy
“These are people who focus on our natural resources in protecting them and if we don’t have people protecting them then we won’t have anything for the future.”
“We often extend our services to the wider community and with this specific training what happen is and N.G.O. approached us and they said that they have some forest rangers or park rangers that need training and so they approached us and we were more that happy to conduct this training for them.”
On completion of the course these rangers will now be required to protect life and property, prevent crimes and maintain law and order in their protect areas.
Assistant Superintendent Sandra Bowden
“Well the police cannot be anywhere Jackie. There is only so much of us and the special constables that are being trained now will assist us in helping to enforce the legislation.”
“So that once they are out in the field and they make an arrest with regards to any of the protected areas legislations, they will know how to proceed from there.”
“From time to time we do find people breaking these rules and regulations in the park and it’s really a good opportunity with us and along with the police department because, like, sometimes when we come across these people sometimes they act in a violent way and this could help us so that we can move more legally and professionally in our line of duty. In order also that we don’t injure ourselves or do nothing that could get us actually persecuted by the law or ourselves.”
The park rangers are from areas such as Bladen Nature reserve, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Guanacaste National Park and the Chiquibul National Park where only five rangers are responsible for two hundred and sixty-two thousand acres of forest.
“Our rangers they go into the forest – we have five of them – and they have to conduct patrols and they come across illegal incursions, people that we don’t know, people that are harvesting different types of natural resources. So the law of the National Park System Act is that a lot of these things will be illegal, people need to have proper licenses, so we need to prepare our rangers in order that they could conduct the proper procedures to detain and arrest, if it is necessary, the people. We might have to conduct search and eventually, if the matter arises, probably it will end up in court.”
Park manager Derric Chan says besides the training other measures are being taken to effectively patrol the largest protected area in the country.
“So at this time what I have done is I have pre-zoned the park in areas that I could say this area we are going to operate this month and then next month in the other, and so we are going around and we kind of ,like, spreading a little bit thin knowing our area.”
“We are right now in the … let’s say in the gnashing stage of preparing a management plan, collecting information for the management plan and so we can establish proper programmes for management and protection of the area.”
The rangers have also been studying the National Park Systems Act, The Wildlife Protection Act, the Forest Act and the Monuments and Antiquities Act.
The course, conducted by the police and the Forest Department, was organised by Friends for Conservation and Development and sponsored by the Protected Areas Conservation Trust, PACT.