Rosewood mania visits degradation on Barranco
According to Chief Forest Officer Wilber Sabido, rosewood exports have suddenly emerged as a rival to the more longstanding exports of mahogany, Belize’s national tree, as a reported 400,000 board feet have been exported for 2011, according to preliminary data held by the department, compared with just over half-a-million board feet of the national tree.
That sounds good for the local economy, but there are indications of rampant illegal activities surrounding the extraction of rosewood, with thefts now being reported from private lands and protected areas—another reason, it has been argued, why government should put a moratorium into effect, to freeze rosewood extraction, until the matter is properly sorted out.
Amandala has received multiple reports of illegal harvesting from protected areas, including the Sarstoon-Temash National Park. There have also been reports of rosewood timber piled up in Belize’s southernmost village of Barranco, although no one in that village has yet been given a license to harvest it. Forest Department officials have said that they were not aware of the rosewood timber photographed by Punta Gorda’s Wil Maheia in Barranco.
With regard to extraction from protected areas, Greg Ch’oc, executive director of the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), which co-manages the Sarstoon-Temash National Park, told Amandala Thursday that they have determined that at least 25 trees, capable of yielding 400 to 800 board feet each (valued on the overseas market, according to reported pricing details, at tens of thousands of dollars), have been stripped from the national park, which is illegal under the National Parks Act.
Lisel Alamilla, executive director of Ya’axche Conservation Trust (YCT), which co-manages the Bladen Nature Reserve, said that whereas they have not confirmed any illegal extraction from that park, there are reports of illegal extraction from the Deep River Forest Reserve. She said that patrols have been increased in Bladen, because loggers may target Bladen too.
According to Alamilla, the Government has not responded to a call from the NGO to put in place a moratorium on rosewood harvesting, until the situation could be properly assessed, and proper management and oversight implemented to ensure the sustainable extraction of rosewood from Toledo.
Another dimension to this story is the claims of illegal extraction from Mayan ancestral lands. There have been recent reports of tensions between at least one Mayan leader and a harvester from whom he had taken a chain saw used to cut rosewood from what the alcalde has insisted is ancestral lands. However, the counterclaim was that the rosewood was legally harvested under a license, and the alcalde, Alfonso Cal of Golden Stream, reported that the police had been threatening to lock him up for the manner in which he dealt with the logger.
Chief Forest Officer Sabido told our newspaper that the year 2011 saw an explosion in rosewood harvesting, and he said that his department is about to approach the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) for funding to conduct a much needed assessment, starting, if possible, by mid-January. He said that the Department hopes to engage YCT in conducting the work.
In light of reports that people harvesting rosewood are moving more towards the coast, in places like Barranco, Sabido said that because of the issues faced with alleged extraction from communal lands, harvesters are shifting to private lands and other areas, and indeed, said Sabido, they had received a report of rosewood extraction in the Deep River Forest Reserve just before the recent holidays.
The rosewood assessment they hope to commence in the weeks ahead, said Sabido, will first focus on extraction from national lands, because that is what the Department has jurisdiction over, he said.
As for the rosewood turning up in Barranco, Sabido said that he was not aware of it, but he did indicate that two residents from Barranco have requested a license from the Forest Department, which has not yet been granted to them.
Alamilla cautions of the potential ripple effects of the unsustainable and accelerated harvesting of rosewood, which, she said, means that more access ways and roads become open, giving further access to poaching and illegal hunting; increased soil erosion and degradation, and the loss of biodiversity in the forest.
Village residents are concerned that increased petroleum exploration in the adjacent Sarstoon-Temash National Park, as well as increased rosewood logging in the area has had a negative impact on Barranco’s roadways.
Barranco native Angela Palacio has written Toledo East area representative, Eden Martinez, Minister of Human Development, appealing for his intervention.
She said that, “Since the oil company has been doing drilling in the area and what seems to be illegal removal of rosewood from the forest in and around Barranco the condition of the road has deteriorated. The latter activity has seen big trucks on the road to Barranco and all over our beautiful village and at the pier... [A]s you will see in the picture, the few roads that we have are not passable to pedestrians,” said Palacio.
She has appealed to Martinez to attend to the conditions of the roads leading to and located in Barranco: “I urge you to kindly improve the road to Barranco from the Southern Highway to Barranco and also to repair the damage to the roads in the village,” she said, calling for the government to hold the persons who have been degrading the roads responsible for their actions.
“I would hate to think that they tear up the roads to the village and in the village, and pick up and leave,” she said.
She underscores that, “Barranco gets a lot of visitors for reasons including people who want to see where the late Andy P lived and is buried. Also, in this year we get to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the settling and founding of Barranco. We are celebrating this whole year. This celebration includes hosting the National Garifuna Convention in March in Barranco.”
(Amandala thanks Wil Maheia for the Barranco photos.)