Archive for February, 2009

Ya’axche is about Far More than Just Conservation

When the Ya’axche Conservation Trust was founded around 11 years ago, its focus was on preserving the environment around the Golden Stream River — land it had recently purchased with help from England-based FFI.  But the Ya’axche mission never focused solely on protecting the environment.  It focused on building up the communities in the area.  How could it reconcile these two goals which are often at odds with each other?

Over time, Ya’axche developed a blended methodology for the dual development of environmental and socio-economic strengthening within the Toledo District.  This approach requires long-term vision and planning horizons for environmental conservation, yet must also acknowledge the immediacy of sustained economic activity (much of which is based on using environmental resources).

The concepts that came out of this included rotating forest plots that would be cleared for seasonal agriculture, growing shade-loving crops under the canopies of larger hardwood trees, reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and finding business opportunities outside of traditional slash & burn agriculture and timber extraction.

Cocao grows wonderfully in the shade of a hardwood forest

Cocao grows wonderfully in the shade of a hardwood forest

Little did we know it, but we were slowly stumbling onto the philosophies of Integrated Landscape Management.  You see, working toward the goals I mentioned on a local level is one thing, but to have a true impact on the quality of the future environment — and to have a system that is in itself perpetual — cultural and economic mores must be impacted.  Governmental policy and regulation must be supportive; this is of particular importance for achieving balance between people, natural resources and profit.  Everyone has to be on board.  When not, your efforts reduce to a certain amount of wheel-spinning.

Integrated Landscape Management is where multiple abiotic, biotic and cultural goals are simultaneously pursued. Abiotic goals include water resources, soil, and air quality. Biotic goals focus on biodiversity in general, including individual species and habitat protection and ecological restoration. Cultural goals are human-based and include: transportation, land use, recreation, historic preservation and economic goals.  ILM is a mechanism for applying sustainable development to land and resource use through integration among the stages of decision makers (vertically – from a global and national to a regional and local level), integration across sectors and land uses (horizontally – human settlement, agriculture, forestry etc), and integration over time and space.  It embraces a state of balance in which use, conservation and protection are applied appropriately and at the correct scale.

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ILM is a mechanism for applying sustainable development.  For it to function, it must include a specific set of elements.  Firstly, there must be a decision making framework comprised of Policy and Strategic Planning, a Legal Regime, Planning and Project Review.  Secondly, this must be complimented by the functional components to operationalize it.  These are the landscape, the actors, the data, the technology and the coordination.

This concept is hugely important for Ya’axche and its local and national efforts.  As such, we will be providing weekly updates (every Wed) on our activities in this very innovative and highly complex arena.  Stay tuned!

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Our National Policy Advocacy Work – Amending the National Park Systems Act

Recently our Executive Director, Ms. Lisel Alamilla, spent time in the Belizean capital of Belmopan developing provisions for potentially amending the National Park Systems Act.

The issue is that private protected areas, like our Golden Stream Corridor Preserve (15,000 acres connecting the mountains to the sea along the Golden Stream River) do not have the same legal status as other nationally (governmentally) protected areas.  To date there exists a “gentleman’s agreement” between the government and the owners of these lands to treat them as national parks, but no legal statute to back that up.  In regards to covenant acts (similar to an American conservation easement) this is a huge difference.  Our goal, and the goal of our partners, is to integrate private protected areas into the national park system.  This desire was documented in the jointly-developed Belize National Protected Areas System Plan (PDF Summary).

bz-protected-areas-map

So Ya’axche took the lead by hiring the prominent counsel Ms. Magali Marin-Young to draft the provisions for ammendment.  (Ms. Marin-Young is also advocating against a constitutional amendment giving the government unprecedented autonomy in land rights.  Read the coverage here.)  Having drafted the initial documentation, Ya’axche has submitted it for review and endorsement by the Belize Association of Private Protected Areas (BAPPA).  With their approval the provisions will be presented to the government and lobbied.

undp_logoYa’axche’s involvement couldn’t have happened without the support it received from a United Nations Development Plan project grant.  The three-year project, titled “Integrating Protected Area and Landscape Management in the Golden Stream Watershed,” supports a wide range of activities including:

  1. The development of managment plans for four protected areas in the Golden Stream Watershed
  2. A development strategy for the watershed area that strengthens its social and financial sustainability
  3. Clarification of the legislative environment that affects private protected areas
  4. Providing a blueprint for effective management for authorities and other stakeholders to follow, effectively consolidating the National Park Areas System

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