Archive for November, 2009

Ya’axché Rangers Trained as Special Constables

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Special Constable Alejandro Ical (Photo Courtesy Ya'axché)

Last weekend, at a cermony in Punta Gorda Town, Alejandro Ical, a Ya’axché Ranger of Medina Bank was sworn in as a Special Constable by Superintendent Robert Mariano becoming an official member of the Belize Police Department witht the full power of arrest.

Ical, now, joins Ya’axché Head Ranger Marchilio Ack, and Rangers Vigilio Cal, Anignacio Makin, Victor Bonilla, Rosendo Coy, and Ocatavio Cal as Special Constables enforcing natural resource laws in Golden Stream Corridor Preserve and Bladen Nature Reserve. The Ya’axché Rangers take great pride in their work patrolling and enforcing the laws in order to protect Belize’s natural wonders such as Bladen Nature Reserve, the jewel in the crown of the country’s protected areas. The Special Constable Rangers must be upstanding citizens and ambassadors in their communities helping to unite Ya’axché’s work with the  local people with benefits of fresh water, clean air, replenished game stocks and environmentally friendly livelihoods. Ya’axché Special Constables will now volunteer time working with the Police Department in order to familiarize themselves with protocol and procedures from making arrests to prosecuting offenders and keeping a peaceful and safe environment.

Ya'axche's Rangers Special Constables

Thanks to Wildlife Without Borders (WWB) of United States Fish and Wildlife Service for funding the training of Ya’axché rangers.

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San Pedro Columbia villagers upset about proposed dam

Extracted from Channel5Belize.com
Date: November 5 2009
In the deep south, residents of San Pedro Columbia are vocal against the building of a hydro dam in their community. Research work has already begun by the company, Belize Hydro-electric Company, and at a meeting last Sunday called by the Ya’axche Conservation Trust, an assessment was presented outlining substantive damages to the area, including the Bladen Reserve. Marion Ali travelled to the village on Wednesday and files this report.

Marion Ali, Reporting
San Pedro Colombia Village is located about twenty miles from Punta Gorda. It is a village whose residents still practice their traditional way of life, relying heavily on the forest for medicine and the river for water for drinking, washing and bathing. So when they began noticing heavy duty equipment moving into their forests unannounced, it troubled them.

Zenovia Requeña, Villager
“That can’t work with us because we noh need no electricity because still yoh have to pay for it, it’s nothing free, and we need the water. Water is important to our life.”

Jorge Coc, Alcalde, San Pedro Columbia Village
“The people don’t want the dam to be built in the forest because we are seeing the problem that San Miguel have with water and we don’t want it to destroy our river.”

Alcalde Jorge Coc and villager Zenovia Requeña feel that the building of a dam will have the same effect on the river as another dam two miles away in San Miguel Village. And what impact did the building of a dam in San Miguel have on the quality of the river water?

Craviy Kus, Villager, San Miguel
“We see the problems but we can’t help it because the hydro di work.”

Marion Ali
“What’s the problem?”

Craviy Kus
“The water is very dirty. The ladies when they wash, maybe an hour time the water rise and the rocks gone down.”

Clementina Kus, Villager, San Miguel
“Ih dirty, when ih rain ih worse.”

Marion Ali
“This is since the dam was installed?”

Clementina Kus
“Yes and ih hard fi we wash, we have to fix our rock because everyday we go to the river and wash.”

Marion Ali
“You feel that will happen here as well?”

Jorge Coc
“Well sure, because that’s the same river branch that we use.”

Marion Ali
“Have you seen any change in the river since the research work started?”

Zenovia Requeña
“Yes because the other day some oil mi deh in between the water pan top.”

But the environmental impact is not the only reason why the villagers of San Pedro Columbia object to the building of the dam. They say they were disrespected.

Jorge Coc
“No one come and told us what’s going on, that’s why the people are trying their best to fight where they get their permission when they went there.”

Marion Ali
“Have you been able to reach your representatives here?”

Jorge Coc
“Yes, Minister Coy said he don’t know about it.”

Marion Ali
“Did anybody come and say listen, we’re planning to approve a project for a dam behind here?”

Tomasa Ash
“No.”

Marion Ali
“Nobody came? Not last year, not the year before, not even this year?”

Tomasa Ash
“No I don’t hear of nothing. They just come and do what they want.”

But while the villagers are protesting en masse against the building of the dam in their community, their objections might be too late. In December of 2008 Prime Minister Dean Barrow signed this concession agreement with Hydro Maya. The document served as an endorsement for the company’s efforts to seek permits for purposes of research. But it appears that the Belize Hydro-electric Company had begun doing research even before they obtained a permit.

Bartolo Teul, Prog. Mgr, Ya’axche Conservation Trust
“When we went to investigate we found out in July, August that they did went in there and they did not have any relevant permit from the Forest Department, nor the Department of Environment when they went in the first time.”

Marion Ali
“But they have a concession from in 2008 signed by the Prime Minister himself.”

Bartolo Teul
“Yes, that concession agreement, inside that document it stipulates clearly that the owners had to get the relevant permit from the relevant authorities that manage these areas before they could go in.”

Marion Ali
“Have you ascertained that they don’t have a permit?”

Bartolo Teul
“We did ascertain that at that time they did not have any permit when they went in July. However, just a couple weeks ago we were informed that they were given a research permit. It is dated the thirteenth of October.”

Another issue raised by environmentalists is that the area being tampered with is situated within a nature reserve.

Wil Maheia, Environmental Activist
“The Bladen Nature Reserve, which is such a fragile eco-system that is praised internationally, praised globally because of its diversity, and just having somebody going in there and destroying it to put up hydro power, which does not reduce electricity rates for Belizeans to start with, then I feel that is something very wrong.”

Bartolo Teul
“It is right on the boundary between the Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve.”

Marion Ali
“And what’s your position on that?”

Bartolo Teul
“As far as we are concerned, as co-manager of the Bladen Nature Reserve, we felt a bit disappointed that we were not fully informed and got involved in the issuance of this permit. Secondly, our policy with the Forest Department is that when any researcher goes into the Bladen Nature Reserve, there has to be some strict monitoring. I can tell you now that I’ve been informed that they went in on Monday and no member of the Forest Department is along with them. So that posed a concern to us as co-managers.”

Programme Manager of the Ya’axche Conservation Trust, Bartolo Teul says what has villagers even more skeptical is that information on the scope of the research is hard to come by.

Bartolo Teul
“At the meeting Sunday people asked him what exactly are you doing when you say you are doing studies. He refused to give any details.”

Marion Ali
“He as in…”

Bartolo Teul
“The local manager, Mr. Jeff Hansen, for the Belize Hydro-electrical Company.”

News Five contacted the Forest Department twice today to find out more from Chief Forest Officer, Wilbur Sabido about the project. But he was not available. Meanwhile one of the villagers has suggested that solar energy is an alternative to meet the growing demands of electricity supply. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

Meanwhile the assessment carried out by Ya’axche Conservation Trust says that numerous large trees and slopes have been cleared, and that the reopening of roads caused the blockage of waterways. The assessment also says that in clearing the roads, accessibility to the Bladen reserve was increased which in turn facilitates the entrance of hunters and the depletion of local wildlife. The value of damages is put at close to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. We would like to thank Wil Maheia for providing us with pictures taken at Sunday’s meeting.

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San Pedro Columbia Dedicated to Their Natural Resources

The village of San Pedro Columbians of Toledo, called a meeting last Sunday, November 1st to seek answers to questions surrounding the recent permits granted to Belize Hydroelectric Development Management Company Limited (BHD) as well as Xatéros in Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve.  

Villagers from Columbia reported that Guatemalans have been extracting large amounts of  Xaté leaves from the Columbia River Forest Reserve.   It was learned at the meeting that these Guatemalans are legally employed by Belizeans who hold a permit from the Forest Department to extract Xaté.  The villagers were generally displeased that they had not been consulted on these permits and mentioned that if Xaté is to be extracted in the Reserve that buffers their communities should be the ones to benefit.

The larger focus of the meeting was on BHD’s recent permit granted despite BHD’s illegal damages they inflicted on Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve from bulldozing and clearing steep slopes.  Once again, villagers were displeased that they had not been consulted on the matter and were unified against any dam development in such a pristine area.  There were also concerns about BHD’s track record from the HydroMaya dam in San Miguel and their recent illegal development.

The meeting in San Pedro Columbia was very well attended with over 150 community members, the Department of Environment, Ya’axché Conservation Trust, the Police Department, the Belize Defence Force,  and Area Representative  Honorable Juan Coy. 

While Ya’axché is not anti-development or anti-dam, they do support transparent and open planning that will fairly weigh development and conservation needs of Belize and of course follow the due process of natural resource laws.  In fact, Ya’axché is leading an effort to develop a management plan for Columbia River Forest Reserve in order to systemically plan for environmentally-friendly development.   In order for this integrated planning to take place all parties need to be open to discussion and best practices should be utilized. 

Photos courtesy of Ya’axché Connservation Trust.

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BNR_Damage_Assessment_3

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Rare Crested Caracara found by Ya’axché Ranger

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CARACARA (Photo Courtesy Ya'axché)

Ya’axché ranger Victor Bonilla was on his way to work on the morning of Monday, 2nd November 2009, and  noticed a relatively large bird of prey lying on the road. An avid birder, Victor stopped to take a look and was astounded when he identified it immediately as a Crested caracara (Caracara cheriway). This species has rarely been recorded within Belize, let alone the Toledo District, making this a surprising find. This incident also highlights the impact that roads have on biodiversity, something that has concerned Ya’axché for several years now. To monitor this, and as part of its Biodiversity Research, Inventory and Monitoring (or BRIM) System, Ya’axché has made a point of recording all dead animals that its rangers find on the road on their way to and from work along Belize’s Southern Highway every day. Like all of the aspects of Ya’axché’s BRIM system, the information gathered on ‘roadkill’ is fed directly into informing and the organisation’s management efforts.

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Caracara (Photo courtesy Ya'axché Conservation Trust)

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YCT increases damage assessment for Toledo protected areas to $147,000-plus

Extracted from Amandala Newspaper
Author: Adele Ramos – adelescribe@gmail.com
Toledo, Wed. Oct. 28, 2009

The Ya’axché Conservation Trust (YCT) has revised its damage estimates following an August 2009 patrol to assess “illegal damages” blamed on Belize Hydroelectric Development and Management Company Ltd. (BHD) within two southern protected areas: the Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve.

In the mid-week edition of Amandala,  the figures presented tallied to roughly $50,000. However, YCT says that the figure for remediation works alone was $125,000 and not only the $26,700 initially quoted.

“Numerous impacts to the natural and archeological resources of the area were noted to be from forest clearance even on slopes of up to 45° as well as blocked creeks, illegal resource use  and road development,” YCT said in the executive summary of the assessment report. “These activities are of particular consern due to the international biological importance of the area which has been listed as a national focal site for biodiversity conservation.”

The YCT received reports of the illegal clearings in July and a multi-agency patrol including YCT, the Forest Department and the Department of the Environment, visited the area in August.

“It is recommended that BHD cover the estimated $125,000 for the remediation of damage, plus $22,040 for payment to the Government of Belize for expenses incurred to conduct this assessment, plus a fee for the diminished environmental services during the >40-year regeneration period and punitive damages at a fugure set by the Ministry of Natural Resources, ” YCT’s revised report says.

The Government of Belize gave the Belize Hydroelectric Development Company Limited a concession date December 5, 2008. The Forestry Department reportedly gave the company a research permit in October 2009 to enter the protected areas and conduct a feasibility study.

At the time of the clearings detailed above, the company was operating without any approval from the Government to enter and undertake any clearings inside the protected areas. However, there is no indication that the company was fined for undertaking works before applying for the permit.

The company, said the concession, could develop the full hydro potential of the Rio Grande, but in an environmentally responsible manner. In the agreement, the Government of Belize granted BHD the “non-consumptive use” of all water in the Rio Grande – which drains the majestic Maya Mountains – and all its tributaries, upstream of the existing 2.2 megawatt Hydro Maya project at San Miguel, Toledo. This includes the Central River.

The company, in agreement, undertook to establish a minimum of 5 MW of hydro power in Toledo within 5 years. However, it was underscore that the onus is on BHD to apply for permits needed to undertake its work.

GOB claimed, in the document, that the project in in the interest of Toledo and Belize.

In Conejo/Santa Cruz Maya Land Rights Case of 2007, Gregorio Choc, Cristina Coc, and Martin Chen of the Maya Leaders Alliance had complained that the Government had granted a concession to BHD to dam the Rio Grande.

“In the Maya village of San Miguel, the company gained access to 250 acres of village land on which to conduct its activities, including building access roads for heavy machinery and a powerhouse. The villagers were not informed of the effects that this large-scale project will ultimately have on their village lands and traditional practices. Furthermore, consent of the village was not obtained, and no compensation was provided for this compulsory acquisition of Maya lands.”

The Maya of Toledo have an ongoing dispute with the Government of Belize over customary land rights in Toledo. A ruling in that Supreme Court case is pending.

YCT said that the organization had received complaints from villagers in the area that the existing dam, near San Miguel, has been having adverse effects on the river. Environmental authorities have not yet to investigate.

The following map is Ya’axché Property and was inserted in this column for visual aid:

Hydro Maya Dam Situation Toledo Map (291009)pt3

Map courtesy of Ya'axché Conservation Trust

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Illegal Entry and Damages in BNR and CRFR caused Belize Hydroelectric $33,500

Article from Amandala Belize
Author: Adele Ramos (adelescribe@gmail.com)
Posted: 30 September 2009
Link:http://www.amandala.com.bz/index.php?id=9215

Chief Forestry Officer, Wilber Sabido, told Amandala yesterday,Wednesday, that the Belize Hydroelectric Development and Management Company Ltd. (BHD) had been levied a $32,000 charge for damages caused to the Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve when, as previously reported, workers of the company opened up several miles of road, and cleared camp sites and a helicopter landing pad without getting the required permit from the Forest Department.

Sabido said that the fine for entering the protected areas would have amounted to $1,500, in addition to the $32,000 in damages, and the company has agreed to pay all the costs. However, the company has paid only 50% of the levy and asked for 30 days to pay the balance.

Back in September, BHD had applied for a research permit, which the Forestry Department granted earlier this month, October—this even before the fine has been fully paid.

When we asked Sabido why the company has been granted the permit when there are still outstanding monies to be paid for damages, he said that the fact that BHD has applied for a research permit means “they are not trying to flee the country.”

This is a first for the Forest Department, said Sabido.

Ya’axché Conservation Trust (YCT), in an assessment detailed elsewhere in this newspaper, has indicated that based on its assessment, remediation works alone required to restore the damaged habitats are estimated at $125,000. The YCT additionally suggested other fines, but understands that it is the government that has the final say on the matter.

Sabido claimed, however, that the Department did not see the need to levy a heftier figure for remediation works because Belize’s forests are very resilient and regenerate very fast. He told Amandala that an officer of the Forest Department will accompany BHP workers on their research missions to monitor their activities.

He said that BHP’s research plan is to set gauges along the river to measure water flow.

The Hydrology Department, he said, has also been engaged and will continue to be involved in the process.

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