China hot for Toledo rosewood

The high foreign demand for Belizean rosewood, found primarily in Toledo, and the increasing extraction of this resource from Belizean forests has triggered widespread concerns from the environmental community over the sustainability of operations, as well as the far-reaching impacts this continued trend may have on the lives and livelihoods of Toledo residents, and the tourism and fisheries industries, which could also be affected by these operations.

The Punta Gorda-based NGO, Ya’axché Conservation Trust (YCT), which co-manages the Bladen Nature Reserve in the south of Belize, has written both the Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the Chief Forest Officer Wilber Sabido on the issue.

Lisel Alamilla, executive director, told PM Barrow in a November 10th letter that “immediate and direct action is needed.”

“The last two years has seen a steady increase in the harvesting of rosewood from community lands in Toledo. It appears that this has been largely fueled by demand for raw timber from China,” Alamilla told Barrow.

The extraction of small trees, which have been rejected by buyers, said Alamilla, suggests that rosewood stocks in Toledo may have already reached a critical level.

“We urge you to issue a moratorium on all harvesting of rosewood, and to formally re-instate the necessary legislation that will prohibit the export of raw rosewood timber,” said Alamilla. “We recommend that these two measures remain in place until such time as the Forest Department and/or Ya’axché has completed a thorough assessment of rosewood stocks on community lands in Toledo.”

Meanwhile, Yvette Alonzo, Executive Director of the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations (APAMO) has written Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Gaspar Vega in support of the opposition of its member organization, the Ya’axché Conservation Trust, to the unsustainable extraction of rosewood in Toledo.

The umbrella organization of NGOs also agrees with YCT’s call for a temporary moratorium, until the reassessment is complete.

“Immediate action is required in order to ensure the long-term availability of rosewood, and to protect the forests of Toledo from further degradation,” the organization tells Vega. “APAMO therefore calls upon the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment to take urgent action that will put a stop to the open and organized plundering of this valuable timber species.”

DPM Vega told Amandala that he has not received a letter from APAMO but he has heard of APAMO’s press release and does intend to meet with his Chief Executive Officer and the Forest Department team to discuss the matter.

He noted that the season for logging has been opened and he does not yet know what CFO Sabido will advise.

He does agree that the extraction of rosewood has to be monitored closely, to see that the logging laws are followed.

Vega said that he is aware of the concerns of the NGO community, but there are people from the Toledo villages “just bombarding” them for licenses for export of rosewood mainly to China. “I don’t know what China is doing with it,” he added.

As for the recommendation from the NGO community, particularly YCT, that Belize should look into exporting a value-added product rather than the plain rosewood, Vega said he does agree.

“We as Belizeans have to get together and be more creative,” he said, but added that this would mean “more risk-taking” and a huge investment to work with that type of wood.

Minister Vega said that he has information that during the course of the past year or so, the price of rosewood has shot up from $2 a board-foot to $5. Furniture enterprises in Belize, he said, have also applied for licenses to ship raw rosewood, he added.

Vega said he could not answer our question about how many rosewood licenses are out.

There has decidedly been an increased demand and an increase in requests to ship it out of Belize, he told us.

“It is urgent for the [Forest] Department to ensure that the [proper] process is carried out,” he told us.

As for the concerns from the NGO’s over the sustainability of the forest resource, Vega said, “...that’s one of the things we want to discuss for sure.”

Alamilla had written CFO Sabido in August saying that the organization strongly recommends that GOB include rosewood under Appendix III of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – an international listing of threatened and endangered plants and animals), to give the rosewood protective status at least in Belize, as a means of controlling trade.

She also points out that “...logging season was closed from June 15th - October 15th but despite this fact, trees were still cut and timber was still stamped by Forest Department officials.”

YCT has raised concerns to the Forest Department over the potential threats to the species and its habitat, as well as the sustainability of the current extraction practices.

Alamilla said that YCT has identified some research priorities, including addressing the lack of information on the biology, ecology and conservation of the species; and the distribution, cover, density, size structure and regeneration dynamics of the rosewood in Belize—meaning, how the tree replenishes itself in nature.

Alonzo, APAMO’s Executive Director, told Vega in her Thursday, November 10, 2011, letter that, “While the rosewood logging is currently occurring outside of protected areas, APAMO is concerned that the protected areas will then be targeted once stocks of rosewood have been depleted on community and private lands.”

The organization points out that, “The protection and preservation of natural resources [such as rosewood] will help to guarantee the long-term sustainable development of the agriculture, fisheries and tourism sectors upon which Belize is grounded in.”

APAMO said that it supports YCT’s appeal for urgent attention to the problem. It agrees with YCT that there is a need to clarify the existing laws that address the issuance of permits and licenses, as well as the export of these woods. It also underscored the need for enforcement by the Forest Department.

APAMO is also recommending an urgent reassessment of rosewood stocks on community lands, and the development of a sustainable management plan for its future use.