The Programme for Belize, through a project with the Food and Agriculture Organization, carried out extensive research to determine what it would take to ensure the long term productivity of lowland tropical forest in Belize.  The project, funded by the German Government, in partnership with the Forest Department, University of Hamburg and Programme for Belize, will be used to guide sustainable forestry management in Belize.  The project was executed in four blocks of forest, three of those in the Rio Bravo and the fourth in a community forestry area.  Reporter Andrea Polanco tells us more.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Programme for Belize conducted a study to find out more about the productivity of lowland tropical forests and what can be done to support sustainable management to increase commercial trees that we need for timber production. The Programme for Belize carried out the project across four blocks of forests where they did an inventory of commercial and non-commercial species; as well as the dominant and competitor trees.

Edilberto Romero, Executive Director, Programme for Belize

“That has to do with how much you harvest and how much conservation practice you put in place. In our case, you use a forty-year rotation cycle which means when you use a site, you close it and you don’t come back until forty years to give it time to regenerate. But is it possible to go in before that and at the same time how much more it will cost because we know, especially in northern Belize, most of the forest has been depleted and there isn’t sufficient timber, especially mahogany, for the saw mills in the north. So, this project is very important because it is trying to demonstrate how we can do it sustainably and basically looking at how we can put practices to reduce competitor trees and increase the growth of the commercial trees that we want for production.”

The project shows that those forests with long term concessions have stronger management plans in place. But those sustainable practices are not done across all timber extraction blocks; the short term permits, or the annual concessions, are an area of concern.

Wilbur Sabido, Chief Forestry Officer

“That is an area where, admittedly, we need to work on. So, that is an area where the results from this particular project we will certainly be applying especially for the one year licenses where for sure we have seen that there is a depletion in the timber stocks in these areas that have been issued under on year licenses.”

Andrea Polanco

“Why do you think there is that problem when it comes to the short term concessions?”

Wilbur Sabido

“Planning; we need to plan better on what it is that is extracted and to start looking at ways in which we can apply the sustainability criteria to these forests. Now, these forest that are put under short term licenses, these are within national lands; they aren’t protected like forest reserves and neither are they under private land holding. So, in terms of the extent and spread of areas that are under that type of that management regime it becomes a challenge and certainly that is one area from application of results like these, it becomes important.”

Romero says that the timber industry stands to lose if long term forestry management isn’t implemented. Some commercial species are already depleted from parts of the forests because there is no sustainable harvesting plan. Their evaluation shows that it can cost upward of ten thousand U.S. dollars more for sustainable practices to be put in place, but is worth it in the longer run.

Edilberto Romero

“If it not done sustainably, it means you will harvest more and you will make more money in the short term or in that year but after that your forest is basically left as a skeleton forest if your competitor trees are suppressing your commercial trees then that forest will not regenerate the 3way you need it and in the future you will not be able to get the commercial trees that you need. That essentially has been happening in the north. There are saw mill owners in the north who have to go all the way to the south to get trees for their saw mills and what that means is that we haven’t been doing it sustainably in the north.”

The project was conducted in a community forestry project in Toledo called Quiche Ha. Chairman of the group explains how they have benefitted from learning about sustainable forestry practices.

Pablo Max, Chairman, Quiche Ha Sustainable Forest Management

“This project has helped our community in developing jobs, income for the community. Before, we know that there were no licenses being operated in the community. This community has chosen to do their own thing, running their own operation in logging. Before we had illegal loggers logging and before when we do logging we actually cut those trees at this height but through this management plan we lower the cutting of those stumps at least six inches. And that is how we see we are doing proper logging than before and people before used to do illegal cutting and just sell and it wasn’t sustainable. They used to just cut any size of trees and it is not the right way.”

The FAO implemented the project, with funding from the German Government and support from three agencies. It is part of an initiative in three other countries.

Claus-Martin Eckelmann, Regional Forestry Officer (Caribbean), FAO

“Belize is pretty much advanced in its program to safeguard the protection of its forest. I think what needs to happen now is kind of the shift in the view, that we have to focus more on the trees that we are going to harvest in the future. If we want to do anything to ensure the productivity of the forests then we have to look after, identify these future crop trees and maybe we can at least protect them during the harvest that is certainly crucial. If we damage them now then they would start to rot and we wouldn’t have anything to harvest which has value later. Then we can also see if we can liberate them from their competitors so that they grow a little bit faster than they would do normally without our intervention.”

Channel 5