The Forestry Department in Belize is one of those totally useless figments of the imagination the politicians from the port Belize City, running the country in Belmopan the capital trot out to impress visitors and officials of other countries. See! They proudly say, we have a working Forestry Department. Kind of like me saying, See! I have a yellow shirt! Gets about the same amount of use too!
Back in the last government, our Belizean Forestry Department sold out the forestry rights to huge tracts of lands, some of which was not even theirs to sell, to MALAYSIAN FORESTRY FIRMS. The allegations of bribery were legion in the media of the port town. The same Mayalsian firms were widely accused of destroying forests in Southeast Asia and causing loss of topsoil, soil erosion on a wide scale and turning once verdant landscape into desert like Haiti did two hundred years ago.
Yet for years in Belize, the public cry had been for the Forestry Department and the Department of Cooperatives ( another useless piece of expenditure ) to get together and promote forestry cooperatives in the hill villages of the Toledo District. So that we would enjoy exports of lumber, but keep the profits at home in Belize. A foreign exchange earner with widespread social impact in the standard of living. It never came to pass, the Forestry Department sold out the reserves of high jungle rain forest to foreign firms notorious for their reputations.
Bit like that stupid thing they did with the TEAK plantation, selling it to the Citrus Processing company for orange crates. Teak is $10 Bz. a board foot in Miami. A BOARD FOOT! One inch by 12 inches by 12 inches for you uneducated in the Forestry Department. ( Orange crates out of 40 year grown TEAK? Please- give us a break!)
One of the suggestions put forth was portable sawmills, that could log and rough cut lumber by the single tree, deep in the forest and be pulled out in small loads, by mule without much damage to the environment. Selective logging it is called and protection of the thin soils in a steep hillsided high rain forest environment. The only other alternative is to pick the trees up by Russian made counter rotating double bladed forestry helicopter, which is deemed to be too expensive.
What actually happened? Well it wasn't the cooperative department and forestry department working together to use Belizean human resources and teach hill village people how to make a cooperative and get them assistance in marketing. ( There is no problem marketing lumber of any kind in the world . There is a world shortage.) The Belize Electronic Library put examples and photos of small backpack sawmills to foster the growth of such environmentally friendly forestry production. Locals actually made, or imported some such small chain saw mills and guides, to rough cut a tree where it falls into smaller manageable pieces.
But guess what? The Forestry department in it's infinite wisdom, ( I would call it either stupendous stupidity, or the protection of bribery deals ) regulated against small back pack sawmill enviromentally favourable operations. They favored instead, large forestry operations in sensitive steep high rain forest hillsides to be cleared by heavy industrial equipment and bulldozers. The bulldozed roads eventually become pathways for the loss of topsoil to the nearby streams and eventually to the sea along the coast, not far away. Trees were not selectively cut and the damage to undergrowth and other trees financially a loss to the economy of Belize.
Now this May, 2000 on the Belize Culture List we hear a Forestry official has the nerve, or idiocy, to speak on local radio, saying the Mayan slash and burn milpa farmer is responsible for the forest fires burning out of control, in the Mountain Pine Ridge and elswhere. (Feb and March and traditional burning season)
That might go down with North Americans, or Europeans that do not know any better. Might even go down in Belmopan and Belize City where common sense is not so common. But for the rest of the country to swallow such idiocy only leaves rural Belizeans ASHAMED, that such people are getting a salary and that even such a department as the useless FORESTRY DEPARTMENT exists. C'mon we were not born yesterday! The Maya have been doing farming for thousands of years. They practise slash and burn and rotational crop farming in very thin soils by the use of ash from burnt trees, but they never come back to the same piece of jungle land for thirty years. It is a wise crop rotation system they use. Favors animals, birds, the soil, the forest itself and humans too. I'm ashamed of the Belize Forestry Department. They are nothing more than a paper department to satisfy international requirements with letterheads and a few uniformed people. But for real work, real knowledge, real usage, they are just a paper tiger. Might as well cut them out in this time of needed budget cuts and fiscal discipline. And while your at it, get rid of the Cooperative department too. They are just as useless for forming cooperatives of any kind.
Paaah! Save the government and the country some money! Close those two departments down. Buy the Cabinet Minister's some new Ford Broncos instead, or increase the GRATUITY for when you finish your five years. There must be better ways to spend that money?