The Chiquibul Forest is one of Belize’s Pristine forests that is home to several national parks and reserves. But that pristine beauty is under heavy attack and it is believed to be mainly from Guatemalans. This afternoon in a press conference, Friends of Conservation and Development, which Co manages the park, presented their latest report.
The report is called the “Chiquibul Forest, a case for urgent action”. It tracks the history and expansion of illegal logging operation by Guatemalans in the Chiquibul Forest. Logging. The findings are that there continues to be an increase in illegal agriculture encroachment, non timber forest product harvesting, illegal logging, poaching and other opportunistic illegal activities. For the year 2010 and 2011, the organization has detained 24 persons. 58 percent of the 38 monitored nests for the scarlet macaws have been poached. Statistics show that Belize has lost over 7 million us dollars as a result of illegal logging. And in xatero activity, it shows that 37.8 million leaves have been extracted illegally – an economic value of 1 million dollars.
Friends of conservation and development are making recommendations which include reinforcements in hotspot areas through activation of joint conservation posts. They are also recommending the Strengthening of joint forces units with personnel, equipment and training to demonstrate a credible deterrence.
The organization is proposing that a clear policy and mandate on how to deal with cross –border environmental crimes be established. In addition, they are also suggesting that there be a synchronization of roles among regulatory agencies and other stakeholders.
For years, we've been reporting on the situation in the Chiquibul forest - but now the co-managers of the Chiquibul National Park say things are reaching a dangerous tipping point.
That's because the area of land being used for illegal logging activity by Guatemalans has increased by almost forty thousand acres in just one year!
It is no less than a national travesty and the worst part is they are getting away with it.
And that's why the Friends For Conservation - which operates in the Chiquibul left the jungles in the far west to come to the city today for press conference. 7news was there as they sounded the alarm...
Jules Vasquez Reporting
The Chiquibul Forest consists of three protected areas, namely the Chiquibul National Park, Chiquibul Forest Reserve and the Caracol Archaeological Reserve - all told about 50% of the Cayo district, or 7.7% of the total landmass of the entire country.
This afternoon the Friends for Conservation and Development which co-manages the National Park held a press conference to make a call for urgent action: they say we're losing significant chunk of the forest to all these pressures:
As we've shown you over the years, it's under multiple pressures, logging, poaching, incursions, agricultural encroachments and population pressures - all from neighboring Guatemala - which as these small blue dots show is populated with communities that are pressing against Belize's western border.
They have now pushed as much as 12 miles into Belize:
Derek Chan - FCD "That would be about the distance from Benque Vejo to Belmopan. That's how far the illegal activities are happening inside the Chiquibul."
And one Guatemalan Rigoberto Guttierrez as pushed past the border line into Belize, where he has lived for 5 years:
Derek Chan "He has been living in the Chiquibul for the past 15 years - at least - according to our records. When we went there as managers, we met him, and he's been there for these past five years. He's in the adjacency line; his house is in Belize - about 60 meters inside Belize. That would be about 130 feet, but his farm - all his cattle ranching - covers about 25 acres land inside the national park. And he keeps expanding and expanding because there is no marker or anything to say - no dialog to tell him that he must stop."
The OAS knows of the situation, in fact so do the police and the BDF - they know that he has weapons.
Rafael Manzanero - FCD "He was caught with a rifle and over 12 bullets; why was he released? Why is he out there, when our laws of Belize are very clear about handling of firearms?"
Another problem is poaching of the precious Scarlet Macaws:
Derek Chan -FCD "In Belize, we normally don't see these things happen because it's a totally different culture, but in this case here, this bird has been shot, and this is an adult."
Indeed, they have poached Macaw nests as much as 18 miles into Belizean territory. Arrests have been made, but enforcement lags badly behind violations:
Derek Chan "So we go out there, and we patrol these trails day after day, but the illegal activities are just right across from the Chiquibul."
In terms of logging, the toll is staggering: in 24 years it has increased exponentially
Boris Arevalo - FCD "All the red that you are seeing here, that is the deforestation for 2009, and we have lot down here - South Chiquibul. The yellow that you are seeing is new deforestation as of April 2011. So in 1987, there was an area deforested about 113 hectares. That was in 1987. And as we look at the time, in 1994, 692 hectare; that is a clear increase. If we draw a line, there is always an increase. In 2009, 4,680+ hectares were cleared. Now, as of April 2011, we have an area of 4,900 - almost 5,000 hectares being cleared by agriculture."
The last assessment in June of this year - the area in red, shows the area of influence at 26 thousand hectares.
And while that shows the density of agricultural encroachments, illegal logging is worse:
Boris Arevalo - FCD Now, we have in late 2009, this area here was already under impact by illegal logging, and that polygon had an area of 12,000 hectares. By December of 2010, the yellow polygon now shows that illegal logging had increased to 18,000 hectares."
The economic loss to the country in terms of Cedar and Mahogany within the zone of influence is 7.6 million US dollars.
Boris Arevalo "We have a clear picture. The activity is very aggressive, and there are no signs that it will slow down. We are seeing almost an exponential increase in this activity, and the loggers are getting more aggressive."
So what to do about all this?
Rafael Manzanero - FCD "We believe that there is a need of how really to conduct a clear policy and mandate on how to deal with cross-border environmental issues. What do I mean by that? A lot of enforcement in personnel is a little bit timid, or afraid of dealing with Guatemalan elements. Particularly, whenever it pertains to environmental crimes, I think that it really needs to be coming into focus on why it needs to be done. If there is something that we wanted to come about from this press conference, is that this really has a lot elements. It's like an octopus; it has so many hands, and we want to ensure that it's really understood that there is not really one single activity. And at the end, of course, we need to be looking at this much more closely to see that it's not because the Chiquibul is way back there and hidden under forests that it should it should be forgotten. What we are saying is that this is a very important portion of the jewel for Belize. So if we are doing those actions, we are saying that it's not really stopping them. So we need to devise the new methods and be more tactical, and put more interventions in place."
We didn't mention Xate in the story - but that remains another pressure, but lower in intensity than logging or agricultural encroachments.
In 2005, an economic assessment of Xate in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, estimated that in a period of five years some 37.8 million leaves with a value of $1 million Belize dollars had been extracted from the Chiquibul Forest Reserve illegally.
Xate illegal activity declined sharply last year, but by the second half of this year, it had started to pick up again.
It is no secret that the Chiquibul Forest Reserve is under threat and by now the situation has become dangerous. To compound the serious state of affairs, it was revealed two weeks ago that illegal Guatemalan loggers and poachers have ventured deep into the Chiquibul and are in close range of the Caracol Archaeological Site. Over the years the illegal activities of poaching, logging, and extraction of xate as well as other precious woods, have been taking place with relative ease. Friends of Conservation and Development, who co-manages the national park, has alerted that Belize is losing millions of dollars. At a press conference this afternoon, the NGO said that the loss of income has further increased along with the destruction of one of the most fragile areas of Belize. While joint patrols by FCD, B.D.F. and Police have detained a number of trespassers, the rate of conviction is relatively low. FCD singled out the case of one Guatemalan, Rigoberto Gutierrez, who was caught armed but later released. He has since rebuilt a camp and is believed to be hosting other poachers. At its press conference at the Radisson, the NGO highlighted the plight of the national park.
Boris Arrevalo, Biologist & Research Coordinator, FCD
“In regards to the Scarlet Macaws, there is great interest in the poaching of these birds. Over the last three years more than fifty percent of the nests monitored by FCD have been poached so that has a great blow on the Scarlet Macaw population. Now, in regards to the illegal logging activity which is of major concern to us right now in the Chiquibul Forest, based on the preliminary study which we have conducted in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, there are alone the economic loss due to illegal logging has been over four million Belize dollars and over the whole Chiquibul Forest which we categorize it as the illegal logging zone of influence, that goes over the fifteen million Belize dollars nuh. Now in Xate, Xate was one of the activities that started way, way back in the early nineties and it has continued on. In Xate we don’t have any recent data but based on data that we have from 2005, they have projected that from 2000-2005 over thirty seven point eight million Xate leaves have been illegally extracted from the Forest, that has a monetary value of around one million Belize dollars. Now, agricultural incursions this happen mainly along the Western Border to about four kilometers into Belizean Territory up to April of 2011, almost nine thousand hectares have been deforested for agricultural purposes.”
Executive Director of Friends of Conservation & Development, Rafael Manzanero says that urgent measures are needed to curb the plunder of the Chiquibul. With a detailed recommendation guideline, Manzanero says one of the important steps to prevent the mass illegal logging and poaching, is through the setting up of additional conservation posts.
Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director, FCD
“As Belizeans we would get the impression that we need to do something and in our case, we are saying we need to do something urgently.Across in Guatemala there are some sixty-five communities would relate the impact of what we feel in the context of Chiquibul. What we are suggesting and recommending is to put the Ceibo Chico Conservation post and the second one, Valentin which are really the hot spot areas for people who are patrolling in the area—the B.D.F., the police along with our rangers. What we have found out is that Rio Blanco is operational; it is working, it is doing an impact in terms of dissuading Guatemalans to continue on farming in the area. But these guys are far way. Extraction is really difficult and we are very proud about those guys who are able to reach out there and be able to assist in this endeavor. But if there was to be an emergency any day out there, to extract them out, is really, really difficult. So what we are proposing is for Ceibo Chico to be a backup system for the joint forces operating in that area and then the Valentin—it does not exist at the moment—but what we are proposing is that to be under a similar kinda role like Rio Blanco. We believe that if there was to be a presence right along the western border, we believe that it would be able to prevent a lot of the further incursions.”
Aside from the assault on the Chiquibul, other NGOs are also fighting the exploitation of the forest in the south where rosewood and other precious woods are being cut down for export.
Illegal logging activities continue unabated in the Chiquibul. This past Friday, the Chiquibul Joint Enforcement Unit, comprising of Friends of Conservation and Development rangers, B.D.F. and police personnel, surprised a group of loggers well inside Belizean territory in what is called the zone of influence. According to FCD which co-manages the area the group of loggers had chainsaws and firearms when they were spotted in the Tunkul area, ten kilometers from the western border, which is an active zone for illegal logging. One member of the group was apprehended and handed over to police. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Just south west of the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, the unit heard chainsaws cutting down trees in the forest. From this video footage you will hear the chainsaws working, as the unit heads into the zone of influence.
But before reaching the zone of influence, the unit encounters this fourteen year old Guatemalan boy on a trail where he was extracting xate. The Guatemalan minor had in his possession, three horses with twelve thousand xate leaves. The minor told the unit that he was cutting the leaves from the Monkey Tail River, which is some thirty five kilometers inside Belize. He says he doesn’t engage in logging and claims ownership of the horses:
Guatemalan Minor, Found Collecting Xate in Belize (Translated)
“Those are mine. That is mine. My dad bought them.”
Arriving into the zone of impact, the unit discovered this chainsaw still powered on cutting through a log after some six to seven Guatemalan loggers fled the scene. But twenty year old twenty year old Evelio Adelso Romero was left behind and was caught logging illegally. He had in his possession a weapon and ammunition. He says he is aware that he is logging in Belize because he needs to survive. He is paid to a hundred and twenty five quetzales a day to cut and transport the logs to the capital:
Evelio Adelso Romero
Evelio Adelso Romero
“I do it because it is a necessity to work. It is hard to receive work and to maintain my family. The wood will go to the Capital. I don’t sell wood so I don’t know the name of the buyers. They pay me one hundred and twenty-five quetzal for the day.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Andrea Polanco.
The Chiquibul Forest Joint Enforcement Unit personnel estimated that there were at least 8 persons operating in the area, armed with firearms and equipped with chainsaws. Romero was transferred from Tunkul and handed over to the San Ignacio Police. It is expected that he will be charged for possession of an unlicensed firearm, unlicensed ammunition, illegal logging and illegal entry.
Belize has lost more than US$8 million in timber and xate to Guatemalans encroaching on Belizean land, declared Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), in a press conference at the Radisson Fort George Hotel on Wednesday, November 16.
Manzanero said the situation is urgent as the encroachments have spread into key areas such as the Chiquibul National Park, the Chiquibul Forest Reserve and the Caracol Archaelogical Reserve in the Cayo district.
He called on the Government of Belize to send reinforcements of Police and Belize Defence Force soldiers to hotspot areas to establish joint conservation posts.
Presently the FCD park wardens patrol the protected areas in joint patrols with BDF. Manzanero also recommended that government strengthen these joint force units with additional personnel, equipment and training to demonstrate a credible deterrence to the incursions by illegal loggers and poachers.
Manzanero said the authorities need to set out a clear policy and mandate how to deal with cross-border environmental crimes.
He recommended that the regulatory agencies and other stakeholders synchronize their roles to build up cooperation programs with Guatemala, such as the concept of a Peace Park.
Chiquibul National Park Manager Derric Chan cited the case of Rigoberto Gutierrez, a Guatemalan who has been ranching inside the Chiquibul Park for the past five years.
He said Gutierrez’s house is some 50 meters inside Belize, but his ranch extends over 25 acres, all of which is inside Belizean territory.
He is raising cattle and farming crops. Chan said they have clear evidence of who is responsible as 13 Guatemalans were detained last year in the park and another 11 have been detained so far this year; some were as deep as 22 kilometers inside Belizean terrain.
He noted that the Guatemalans use horses to carry out their ill-gotten gains, and while they captured 14 horses last year, they have captured 32 horses so far this year, indicating a rising trend of incursions.
Chan said these illegal visitors are harvesting xate illegally, logging illegally, hunting game for food, and poaching the nests of the scarlet macaw parrot.
FCD research coordinator Boris Arevalo cited numbers which show an exponential increase. Whereas in 1987 they detected 113 hectares which had been cleared by illegal logging and farming activities, the encroachment increased by 92 hectares by 1994, but a more recent survey in 2007 showed 4,462 hectares cleared.
By 2009 this had grown to 4682 hectares and this year it’s now 4,931 hectares to date.
Joint BDF/Police patrols have detained 24 Guatemalans in the Chiquibul over the past 2 years.
These marauders are also poaching scarlet macaw nests. They raided some 50% of the 38 nests monitored by FCD wardens in 2008. Last year they raided 47.4% of the nests monitored. But this year the poachers raided 88.9% of the nests.
Only one nest had fledglings. Some nests are near the Chalillo lake, but others are along the Raspaculo and upper Macal River. Poachers have to walk as much as 60 km to skirt hills and streams to reach the nests.
Arevalo also estimated the value of the wood, cedar and mahogany removed by illegal loggers, at some 8,765 cubic meters. From the Caracol Reserve alone the value of the mahogany removed is US$1,278,885; from the entire zone in which illegal logging is taking place he estimated the total value of mahogany removed at US$4,022,676 in value. The same is true of cedar; he estimated some 2,913 cubic meters had been removed from the Caracol reserve with an estimated value of $1,142,102.
For the total area in which illegal logging is occurring he estimated 9,164.85 cubic meters of cedar had been extracted, with a value of US$3,601,865. When totaled, this added up to US$2,423,987 stolen from the Caracol Archaeological Reserve and US$7,624,541 from the total zone of the loggers’ influence.
The poachers are also harvesting xate illegally. Arevalo estimated that at least 37.8 million leaves had been harvested, with a minimum value of BZD$1 million.
In total this is over US$8.11 million in forest products stolen. This value does not include the stolen macaw fledglings, nor the game such as gibnut and pheasants killed for food.
He noted that the poachers would also destroy cameras used by scientific researchers to monitor jaguar nocturnal movements, since these cameras also caught images of xateros at work.
OPINION: Guatemalans are invading Belize and now is the time to take the matter seriously
Nov 23, 2011 (Caribbean News Now - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
As a citizen of Belize, it is hard for me to read the news to know that the citizens from Guatemala have been constantly crossing the Guatemalan border at will for years now to cut logwood, rosewood, mahogany and take out other natural resources from our country as if Belize belongs to them, and our government and people are just sitting idly by and taking this abuse and do nothing.
Plus, they have been crossing the border for years, coming into Belize to squat on private and government lands to create new villages and settlements and we must wait for years before we can remove them from our territory. This is a new concept that is taking place that can be described as "Population Invasion".
No Belizean can cross the Guatemalan border to do what the Guatemalans are currently doing in our country; otherwise they would be shot and killed that same day by the Guatemalan military.
A Guatemalan citizen, despite the fact that he or she was born in Guatemala, cannot even think about doing the things they are doing in Belize in their own country because they would suffer the same fate like Belizeans who trespass on Guatemalan soil. This is the reason why Guatemalans and other citizens from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and the other Central American Republics, choose to come to Belize and live.
While they are getting away with this, thousands of Belizeans have been putting in their applications to own lots and farmlands in Belize but have gotten none. Belizeans in the United States and in Belize have been watching the unfair treatment of native Belizeans for years now and their patience is running thin. Some black Belizeans are afraid to raise this issue because they do not want to be accused of being racist towards Latin Belizeans. The Latin Belizeans are quiet about this issue, which makes many black Belizeans believe that they condone this type of behaviour from their Latin brothers and sisters from the neighbouring Central American countries.
In the last twenty years, the Latin population has grown tremendously and has surpassed the black population by many percentages as was revealed in the last census report. This will give the Latin population a big advantage over the black people in political, economic and social power.
Many black people have left and continue to leave Belize because they do not see this situation getting better but worse. At the trend this population is growing, in the next twenty years black people might only number about 15% of the population.
The only way to counter this population imbalance is to bring in people of African descent from other countries to balance this population. Knowing my people, I would not be surprised to see that some black Belizeans might be against this proposal.
Another plan would be to have a program for black Belizeans living in the Diaspora to go back home and live by providing them with some incentives. Economic conditions facing black people are the main cause for them leaving Belize to come to the United States. Statistics have confirmed that poverty is higher among the Garifunas and the Creoles, the two largest black ethnic groups in Belize.
While the blacks are leaving, the other ethnic groups and people from other countries are coming to Belize and they are planning to take advantage of the land opportunities that the Belizean citizens are being deprived of. It is in the best interest of this government to make lots and lands available to the black people in Belize to stabilize the population and decrease this disparity that currently exists between the ethnic groups.
The Guatemalan government will not do anything to their citizens who are invading Belize because it works to their advantage. When their citizens leave for Belize, more land becomes available to the wealthy families who own and control Guatemala.
Belizeans, Latin and black alike, must realize that, if Guatemalans continue to come to live in Belize, their lives will not be the same because we have already seen some changes in the political, social and economic relations among the various ethnic groups in our country.
Belize must create a plan to address this crisis immediately. This issue will require holding the Guatemalan government accountable for allowing their citizens to freely move back and forth across the border to be constantly engaged in illegal activities.
Also, to lift the freeze on the amount of forces Belize can have to patrol its borders and add about ten thousand more soldiers along that border in the Chiquibul Forest region. The United States government can be of great assistance to Belize because they have a vested interest in the region. Belize does not have the resources to combat this problem by itself and will need foreign assistance. If we cannot do the job by ourselves, we should be appreciative of the countries that are coming into our country to get the problem resolved.
These people are criminals that are engaged in a criminal activity daily. Yet, their illegal actions are affecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all Belizeans. I now call on our fellow comrades who are patriotic to our country, to take this matter seriously before the Guatemalan population invasion takes its toll on our beloved country Belize.
Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), the NGO co-managing the Chiquibul National Park with the Forest Department, reported a bust today of illegal Guatemalans raping the Belizean forest of its resources in a wave of incursions that may have cost the nation tens of millions of dollars.
FCD reported that the Joint Forces Unit in the Chiquibul Forest—a team of Belize Defence Force, Police and FCD personnel—was on a mission on Friday, November 18, in the area of Tunkul, located 10 kilometers (over 6 miles) from the western border with Guatemala, when they intercepted illegal loggers.
“Sounds of chainsaws could be heard from a distance,” said the FCD. “But prior to arriving to the zone of impact, a boy aged 14 was found on one of the tracks. He had been extracting xate.”
They also found the boy with 3 horses loaded with 12,000 xate leaves, the organization said.
“He reported that the xate was being transported to one, Rudy from Guatemala,” said the report.
They explain that minors are used, because they can quickly elude authorities in the forest.
According to FCD, the boy reported that he had been bringing the xate from the area of Monkeytail River, 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) far inside Belize.
“Since he is yet considered a child, the Unit did not handcuff him,” said the FCD.
The end result was not surprising—the boy escaped back into the jungle.
In another encounter that day, FCD said that they had come upon a group of Guatemalan loggers, and those who saw them first began to shout.
“This alerted the other loggers, but because of the sound of the chainsaws, one remained, found cutting the log,” said the FCD.
As a result, they nabbed an armed logger, Evelio Adelso Romero, a villager of Las Brisas de Chiquibul in Guatemala.
“In his possession was a rifle and three .22 bullets,” the FCD reported. “Another firearm was also recovered in the area: a 12-gauge shotgun and five shotgun shells.”
The report said that Evelio was cutting lumber to be transported to Nueva Armenia, where a man identified as Carlos Martinez buys the lumber, which is transported to Guatemala City.
The logger reported that he is paid 125 quetzales per day, roughly BZ$35, for cutting the logs, said the FCD.
“The Chiquibul Forest Joint Enforcement Unit personnel estimated that there were at least 8 persons operating in the area, 8 chainsaws and 4 firearms,” they added.
Evelio Romero was subsequently taken to the San Ignacio Police Station, where he was handed over to police.
“It is expected that he will be charged for possession of an unlicensed firearm, unlicensed ammunition, illegal logging and illegal entry,” said the FCD.
FCD has reiterated the urgency of increased surveillance to curb illegal Guatemalan activities inside Belize.
We understand that they are having meetings and making presentations to key Government officials this week.
GOB agrees to put “more boots” on Chiquibul ground
In an interview with Amandala today, Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow frowned upon a recent indication from United States (US) President Barack Obama last Tuesday, via a presidential memorandum, that the US has declared “combat” against countries that it may deem guilty of violence or discrimination against “lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender” persons, dubbed LGBT for short—a war which could have implications for foreign aid allocations to poor nations.
Barrow told Amandala that he has not yet seen the memo himself, but he doesn’t care what it says, as the Government of Belize will not move from its stance.
The Belize Government has decided to defend the law which pronounces unnatural sex illegal and which permits a 10-year prison term for persons found guilty of sodomy. In reality, though, Belizean law enforcement authorities do not prosecute homosexuals, except in cases of rape and the molestation of minors.
As regards to the Government of Belize’s decision “to defend the law on the nation’s statute books,” said Prime Minister Barrow, if the US is saying that it will cut foreign aid to Belize, “they will have to cut off their aid,” Barrow told us.
No one can tell the Government of Belize what to do on this matter, which is an internal matter, he said.
While the Obama memo was issued out of the White House in Washington, D.C., it was directed globally, to nations including Belize, who may face repercussions in terms of foreign aid allocations from the US.
“Agencies engaged abroad are directed to strengthen existing efforts to effectively combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct and to expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBT status or conduct,” said Obama.
Prime Minister Barrow told our newspaper that there is not much that the US government gives to Belize, apart from its aid for security, which, he said, is not much and is for the US government’s self-interest, because they are worried about the drugs going to the US—which, he added, is such a huge and unforgivable consumer of the vast majority of the illicit drugs.
The US president’s memo stated that, “Under my administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere. Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”
The constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court of Belize by Caleb Orozco’s United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) is known to have major international support.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has written in her annual human rights reports on Belize for the past two years that, “The law [of Belize] does not protect sexual orientation or gender identity...”
She also mentioned UNIBAM in her report, identifying it as, “The country’s sole lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization...”
Clinton said that UNIBAM had reported that “continuing harassment and insults by the general public and police affected its activities; however, its members were reluctant to file complaints.”
In his memo last Tuesday, Obama declared the US’s intent to embark on “swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad,” and to “vigorously advance” its goal to promote the rights of those who choose to have same-sex relations, including homosexuals and bisexuals, and those transgender persons who may decide they want to be a man today and a woman tomorrow.
PM Barrow indicated that he intends to review the Barack memo to see what other issues he has raised in the document; but Government’s decision to defend its position in local court stands, nonetheless, he indicated.
For years we've been reporting on the Guatemalan incursions into the Chiquibul Forest. First it was Xate but now its logging.
Today in Belmopan the Friends for Conservation and Development, which co-manages the Park, held a forum on the illegal logging situation in the Chiquibul Forest.
It provided an Economic and Ecological Valuation Assessment which made it clear that the cost both to the environment and the economy is staggering. Here's an excerpt:
Boris Arrevalo - Friends For Conservation and Development "This graph is showing to us that in 2010, the illegal logging influence was just over 18,000 hectares. Then, by 2011 - which was last year - that area had increased to 26,642 hectares. That is an increase of 46.6%. Now, from last year to mid 2012, to when the research finished, we had an incrrease of 28% , giving a total area under illegal logging influence of 34,000. The amount of area being deforested in the Chiquibul Forest is more than just 393 hectares that have been deforested by illegal logging. We have the looting of our Mayan Sites. Just by may field observations, I will say that 95% of all the Mayan structures that have been found in the Chiquibul Forest have been looted already. For NICH, it's an issue. What is the value of that information that we as country are losing. It doesn't have an approximate value. So, we see that the volume of Mahogany 2.9 million board feet, while for cedar is 2.8 million board feet that has been extracted already, with an aggregated economic value of $9.5 million US. The volume and economical value of the lumber that is lying there in the Chiquibul Forest is $3.05 million US. A lot of timber, it's just left there. Then, we have that deforestation; a result of illegal incursions is becoming a big problem. To conclude, I will say that it is not showing signs of decrease; the problem is getting bigger and bigger every day."
Actions recommended include establishing a mechanism to salvage commercial grade timber that was left as waste and maintain a constant and varied security presence.
Ten years ago, most of us didn't even know what the word "Xate" referred to. But since then Xate has gone mainstream - and by now - after dozens of news stories - most of us know it is an ornamental leaf that grows plentifully in Belizean forests - and is highly sought after by Guatemalan poachers.
Now, the Friends For Conservation and Development, which co-manages the Chiquibul National Park has quantified exactly how many leaves have been taken - and how many remain in the Chiquibul.
After over a year of field work and in house analysis - they presented their report today in Belmopan at the Convention Hotel. 7news was there.
Jules Vasquez reporting
In an exhaustive - and no doubt exhausting survey of the Xate plants in the Chiquibul forest, for eight months - six persons surveyed 60 plots of the forest - each plot about half a hectare:
Boris Arrevalo, Biologist & Research Coordinator, FCD "Within those plots we counted all the Xate plants. We counted them, identify them, how many leaves they had, how many have been extracted, how many commercial leaves and how many leaves had evidence that they had been eaten by animals."
And, the survey says....
Boris Arrevalo, Biologist & Research Coordinator, FCD "Actually the survey revealed that illegal xateros have been wondering to scribble the forest quite a lot and they have been extracting a lot of leaves from the Chiquibul forest mainly one specie which is the fishtail. The data revealed that at this point xateros have managed to walk away with over 14 million leaves of fishtail from the Chiquibul alone."
"In terms of money, it will be a little over six hundred thousand US dollars."
But while much has been illegally extracted, there's still a fair quantity left behind:
Boris Arrevalo "We calculated the productive capacity of Xate in the Chiquibul forest and the results indicate that within the Chiquibul forest we could harvest over 8 million leaves at this present moment."
That's a value of six hundred thousand US dollars:
Boris Arrevalo "At present we have a potential Xate industry in Belize where we still have the Xate stocks in the Chiquibul forest. What we need to do is to try to put forward an industry that is well manage and well monitored."
But who would extract it? It's tough going in a rugged area for an ornamental that does not give a great per leaf yield.
An operation was opened in Belize years ago - but it ran into trouble because Guatemalans were doing all the extraction:
Jules Vasquez "It is very hard to get Belizeans to go into that deep forest. It's such a rugged area to get them to go and do Xate extraction which all things considered is not a high yield crop."
Boris Arrevalo "Actually what you are saying is 100% correct. For a Belizean company to start marketing Xate it is something that they have to think once, twice or maybe ten times over because the minimum wage here in Belize is very high compare to what Guatemalans would be earning. What we need to do is to get community involved. Make a community for buffering the Chiquibul forest; let's say San Antonio or Seven Miles or Cristo Rey - get a community concession where these people feel that there is an ownership in the Chiquibul for them and not only focus on the extraction of Xate but they could extract other non-timber products such as bay leaves, copal, spice seeds and chicle that could add more value to extracting activities within the Chiquibul forest."
And if Belizeans don't get it, someone will as Xatero activity long in decline has now picked up:
Boris Arrevalo "For over the last 2 years we have seen a drastic decline in xatero activity in the Chiquibul forest but lately over the last month or so we have seen an increase of xatero activity again."