Belize Audubon Society’s (BAS) Position on Infrastructural Development within the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

The Belize Audubon Society (BAS) is the co-manager of the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (CTWS) along with the Forest Department. On Thursday, April 3, 2008, the Belize Audubon Society was informed that a road was being constructed across the Western Lagoon within the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary as part of a development project to access farmlands and as part of a larger plan aimed at increasing tourism.

BAS is supportive of the goal of any sound infrastructural development project in improving the economic conditions of our communities’, particularly for Crooked Tree Village where BAS has invested and implemented several community development initiatives. However, this infrastructural development has proceeded without going through the proper legal process contrary to the National Parks System Act Chapter 215 of the Laws of Belize which governs protected areas and the Environmental Protection Act Chapter 328 of the Laws of Belize which governs development.

Belize Audubon Society’s position is that all projects should adhere to the laws of Belize, particularly when the development is planned for a sensitive protected area. Adherence to the laws would enable proper planning, reducing potential negative environmental, social/cultural and economic impacts.

The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is a nationally and internationally recognized protected wetland area. International recognition comes from its designation as a Ramsar site which gives it the status of a wetland of international importance. While these recognitions are commendable, it is the valuable functions of the lagoons and creeks within the CTWS which makes it an important area.

The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is the primary water supply source for the Crooked Tree Community and also provides food for the community through subsistence fishing. In addition, the lagoons and creeks play a critical role for flood control for the Belize River Valley and for Belize City as they act “as a huge water storage area for the Belize River” during the rainy season.

As the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary Draft Management Plan states: “When extensive rainfall causes high-stage floods, water is forced backwards up Black Creek and into the Crooked Tree wetland complex of Northern, Western and Revenge Lagoons, filling the inundation area, then flooding the adjacent pine savanna, and backing up Spanish Creek. Once the river flow is back to normal, the stored water then drains back into the river through Black Creek.” This function was clearly evident in the aftermath of Hurricanes Mitch and Iris, and heavy rains in 2006.

People are not the only ones dependent on the water within the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary as the Sanctuary “provides for critical habitat for wildlife” (CTWS Management Plan) with thousands of migratory and local water birds, including the Jabiru (CTWS has the highest population) and Wood storks, flocking to the CTWS to feed on fish found in the lagoons. It is this role that has attracted visitors to this protected area.

These functions must be safeguarded and taken into consideration in planning development in close proximity to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and even more so for a development in the wildlife sanctuary.

The Belize Audubon Society will continue to support community development initiatives as well as to advocate for sustainable, planned development as we continue to be an active and responsible partner in the development of Belize.