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May 18, 2020

Rivers of White Ash in the Vaca Forest

Friends for Conservation and Development, F.C.D., has been battling for the preservation and conservation of Belize’s forest to the west for many years. For the past few weeks, the environmental group has been challenged with its latest foe, forest fires.  Large portions of the Vaca and Chiquibul forests were destroyed by rampant fire; it also killed animals and destroyed habitats. It is believed that the fire in the Vaca was started by a Guatemalan farmer. The effects can still be seen and F.C.D. board member and photographer Tony Rath captured the damage in a dramatic fashion.  Armed with his lens and camera and accompanied by F.C.D.’s Executive Director Rafael Manzanero and rangers, Rath journeyed to the Vaca Forest Reserve where he saw the devastation from a different perspective. Through his photographs, Rath captured the evidence left by Guatemalan encroachers and follows the story of one particular Guatemalan farmer who was arrested inside Belize.


Tony Rath

Tony Rath, Photographer

“When FCD first encountered him they secured him first of all and then they interrogated him. He did mention that he knew he was in Belize and that he really had no choice. I mentioned all of this in the article, he had no choice because most of the land around his village had already been taken over by other farmers or by cattle ranching. He had felt that since maybe half a million he was chopping there was a cattle farm in Belize he felt like it was okay for him to be there and basically he said that he need to farm to support his family. The thing that really got me the most was that a lot of these forests had fallen from the fire and had burnt so hot and so complete that all you fell were rivers of white ash. It almost looked like snow. The forest was still collapsing because we would hear trees falling. Normally you would hear a tree fall once a day or so but we were hearing trees falling every half hour and that is because fires were burning at the base of the tress and eventually burnt through and continue killing tree as the fires burnt through.”

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