Archive for July 18, 2009

Unlawful Development Threatens Belize’s Core Protected Areas

Cleared Area in Bladen Nature Reserve

A now well-established pattern of disregard for Belizean protected area law and value has reached an intolerable height in southern Belize.  The integrity of Belize’s crown jewel of protected areas and some of its most virgin jungle, Bladen Nature Reserve, has been abused in a manner similar to recent events at Victoria’s Peak in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and in South Water Caye Marine Reserve. The latter of which has ultimately left Belize’s Barrier Reef on the “List of World Heritage in Danger”.  Unplanned and unlawful development that benefits the few yet disregards the interest of local communities and the natural environment of Belize is a prevailing threat to this country’s comparative advantage of pristine protected areas.

Last week the construction of a new road in Colombia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve by Hydro Maya Inc. was halted as the company did not have necessary permits from the Forest Department or Ministry of Natural Resources to conduct such activities. The company’s plans include the construction of a hydro-power dam on the Central River within Bladen Nature Reserve, more than 15 miles into protected areas lands.  The proper procedure of applying for permit had not been followed.

Significant damage has already been inflicted on Bladen Nature Reserve, where the planned road had been marked and roughly three acres were cleared for the construction of three thatch buildings and a helicopter landing zone.  Evidence along the new road proves that illegal hunters have already taken advantage of improved access to the bountiful yet delicate wildlife of the reserve.  In a four day patrol with the Belize Defence Force, the Belize Forest Department and Ya’axché Conservation Trust recorded  evidence of a diversity of wildlife including jaguar, great curassow and howler monkey troops as well as unexcavated Maya ruins along the new road or in its path.  Also of note on the patrol was evidence of Guatemalan Xateros more than 17 kilometres into Belize.

Bladen Nature Reserve is protected at the highest level by Belizean Law.  Its role in the National Protected Area System is of pure conservation, research and education for the benefit of all Belizeans.    The upper Bladen watershed in the east and the Central River in the west, of the Nature Reserve, support a large extent of old-growth, primary tropical broadleaf forest, which helps safeguard the provision of clean water to many villages in Toledo.  The Nature Reserve also encompasses many unique vegetation assemblages, including upper-elevation and limestone hill forest – two of the most unique and significant threatened ecosystems of Central America.

The lack of respect for due process, community input and protected area law has become an all too common exploit of venture capitalists in Belize.  While the Toledo West Representative, Hon. Juan Coy, has keen interest in the construction of this proposed hydro dam, few other stakeholders, including the communities of San Miguel and San Pedro Colombia and the Belize Forest Department, have been consulted and as such they are unaware of the illegal activities which have been occurring over the past seven weeks.

Efforts to undermine the integrity of Bladen, and the processes and systems that protect Belize’s natural and cultural resources must be dealt with swiftly in order to curb this current pattern of unlawful and poorly planned development.

Hydro Maya Bulldozer in Forest Reserve

Hydro Maya Bulldozer in Forest Reserve

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