Toledo losing Rosewood at unsustainable rate PART 2
Rosewood lumber is a highly prized and much sought after timber. Furniture crafted from rosewood typically fetches premium prices in first world countries. In Belize, the timber is found primarily in the Toledo district in low-lying coastal areas. The District, which once boasted over 85% forest coverage, has been losing some 5000 acres of forest each year. And while the south has been targeted for years as a prime location for the extraction of various hardwoods, environmental organizations such as Yaíaxche Conservation Trust and APAMO, have been highlighting the need for an immediate moratorium on rosewood. This is because there has been a consistent increase in the harvesting of this rare timber. PlusNews has confirmed that over the last 6 months alone the LEGAL extraction of rosewood increased a whopping 600%. One can only estimate that also as to represent the increase of ILLEGAL rosewood extractions. The entire district, which is comprised of almost five hundred thousand (500,000) acres of forest, is only serviced by 2 forest officers. While the issuance of licenses have been DECREASING in most of the country, in the Toledo District, licenses have been on the INCREASE! What is even more alarming is that most of these licensed loggers have NOT been using portable sawmills or band-saws; which are more efficient. Instead, they have been using the chainsaw. The chainsaw is a cheaper cutting tool; it is highly portable so loggers can go into the forest faster, it can go in deeper, and it cut more logs in a shorter period of time. It is also an incredibly wasteful process; leaving behind 1 inch of Rosewood for every 1 foot that is cut. One man with one chainsaw is capable of harvesting at least 10,000 cubic feet per month. This event is repeating itself hundreds of times daily in at least 25 villages; and some say as much as 32 villages in the Toledo District. These and other statistical numbers that Plusnews has in its possession is what prompted our journalist Louis Wade, to speak with Deputy Chief Forest Officer Marcello Windsor.
Jules Vasquez, Channel 7 Journalist Do we know, currently, what is the rate and level of extraction for 2011 for example?
Marcello Windsor, Deputy Chief Forest Officer Yes, I donít have the figures, but we do know; the Forest Department continuously assesses the Rosewood extraction from the Toledo District.
Louis Wade Jr. PlusTV Journalist My research is showing that over the last year about twenty million square foot of Rosewood has been extracted.
Marcello Windsor I cannot tell you "yes" or I cannot tell you "no", Iíd have to review the situation then I can confirm.
Jules Vasquez Obviously something is happening that illegal blocks of Rosewood are allowed to be exported.
Marcello Windsor Well in the exportation system, when this reaches the Customs Compound, there is a forest officer that has to inspect that it is from a legal source. For the most part, what we were trying to do is ensure that before these fletches are actually loaded into containers that there is a forest officer there.
Jules Vasquez Might you accept that there are huge sums of money involved? There are money interests involved and that some of the enforcement officers might not be acting in an above board basis.
Marcello Windsor I cannot tell you "yes" to that, for the reason that as you know Rosewood is actually sold by pound or we measure it by tons. So what the Government does is these structure containers would actually go on a scale and then that is how we would assess the volume on it. When the court ruled that we needed to recognize the customary Mayan Land Rights, the problem with it is that there are no definite boundaries that demarcate the communities down south, which are the Mayan Communities down south. So that is a big problem that we are having and we need to develop mechanisms for us to ensure that indeed those laws are actually coming from within the communal areas. Itís not a door that the Government opened itís a door that the court ruling actually opened. They should have actually cautioned the Mayan people that with that empowerment comes a responsibility and perhaps itís very convenient for them not to demarcate a boundary on their claimed lands. So that is something that perhaps we need to insist that they do so that we know for sure where their lands ends and where national or private lands begin. We, because of that ruling cannot tell them yes you can cut or no you canít cut.
Jules Vasquez Yes, but you sanction it once itís outside.
Marcello Windsor Once itís outside yes we do. bBcause at least there is some royalties that we get.
Louis Wade Jr. What is the royalty per square foot.
Marcello Windsor We actually ummÖ
Louis Wade Jr. What is the royalty per weight?
Marcello Windsor Itís sixty dollars per ton.
Louis Wade Jr. Sixty dollars per ton. How many export licenses have been issued and who are the holders of these licenses?
Marcello Windsor Well weíve actually issued a number of licenses to a very wide number of people.
Louis Wade Jr. Is any Vega or relative of Vega having a license to export?
Marcello Windsor I know that there was one Vega, Giovanni Vega and as far as I know and as far as we have investigated, he is no relative to the Deputy Prime Minister.
Louis Wade Jr. So he does hold a license?
Marcello Windsor Yes he does. Anyone can actually get an export license; all you need to do is just present your receipts.
Louis Wade Jr. Did you promise several organizations in the south that the two officers that are currently forest officers in the Toldeo District would be removed, one of them by June? Have they been removed since?
Marcello Windsor What we are doing is that we are refurbishing the houses at Machaca Forest Station and as soon as that is completed, transfers will happen.
Louis Wade Jr. Now, the Machaa Forest Station has on its door that there is a moratorium that is currently up on all commercial logging taking place since February 17th 2011 in the entire Toledo District.
Marcello Windsor I havenít seen that
Louis Wade Jr.
Are you aware of it? Is there suppose to be a moratorium up?
Marcello Windsor On commercial logging? I know that the logging season closes on June 15th and actually opens on October 15th; I donít know if that is what that is referring to?
Jules Vasquez Has extraction been happening during that period of time?
It is, within the Mayan Communal lands.
Louis Wade Jr.
Only the Mayan communal lands?
As far as we know yes.
Jules Vasquez There are powerful interests who are pushing to sanction any kind of logwood extraction and all you all just whistle pass the grave yard and say ĎWell no alternative livelihood this week. We canít go in there but once the wood comes out we can do anything and this is being pushed by the Forest Departmentís lust by a royally who want to continue on fettered extracted.'
Marcello Windsor Jules we had a discussion on a one to one with the community leaders in the communities in Southern Belize. We have indicated to them that as much as we can sympathize with their economic situation, tomorrow there wonít have something to put on the table, because off course itís unsustainable - the way they are actually harvesting down south.
Louis Wade Jr. But wouldnít you also say by extension it is unsustainable how you are stamping?
Marcello Windsor We have assessed the volumes of timber in those communities and we have requested them to discontinue or to stop and since a few months ago, we have been facilitating the process and working and trying to work along with those community leaders and even so, the situation has not stopped.
Louis Wade Jr. So why donít you stop stamping?
The situation is not stamping or not stamping, the situation isÖ
Itís all fueled by export.
Yes, we as a Forest Department are working towards moratorium. We are also working toward enlisting this species under appendix three of sites, which is the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species and we believe that that might be the only way that we can actually bring some sort of regulation toward the export of this commodity.
Louis Wade Jr.
So you donít see stop stamping as a viable method?
We are hoping that the Mayan people understand their situation and what will happen and donít come to us
PlusNews understands that Government of Belize plans to appeal the Chief Justiceís decision in regards to Communal lands. By that time, even if government wins the case, at the rate rosewood is being extracted from the district, the rosewood would have been completely removed from all Communal lands in the south. We continue to lobby the Forest department for the statistics they promised us would be ready for Monday as out 4 visits to the department have so far come up empty.