The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management has just completed rehabilitation works at the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.  And now, they want Belizeans to take ownership and help with the upkeep. News Five was there for the unveiling of the new facilities.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve spans three hundred square miles. It’s known for its highest point Baldy Beacon, as well as waterfalls, steep ridges and nature trails. But this reserve is also under pressures: forest fires, illicit activities are largely unfettered in this natural reserve. But the Forest Department wants to change that, so they are stepping their presence and strengthening how they respond to these challenges.

Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development, Climate Change & Disaster Risk Management

“We have had a lot of incursions in the area; on occasions, you have forest fires and we have to do that type of monitoring. This area is very important not because it is a forested area but because it is an important headwater for the waters that flow into several of our rivers, including the Roaring River. On occasion we have witnessed people coming into the area without permission and so this will serve as a monitoring area for that type of presence here. But additionally, during the times when we have forest fires our foresters and fire-fighters are tired and they need a resting area so this will give them some place to have a resting. Important for the other areas is that we cannot have monitoring of all these sustainable forest areas if we don’t have our people, our personnel in good accommodations and so this will give them an incentive to do the job the right way.”

Through the Selva Maya Project they have implemented a number of upgrades to the facilities in the reserve, like the rehabilitation of this ranger station at Cooma Cairn. Forest Officer and National Liason Officer on this project Yanira Pop says that for just under fifty thousand dollars they were able to renovate an old building and transform it into a functional and strategic base for rangers to patrol on rotation.

Yanira Pott, Forest Officer & National Liaison Officer

“Here at the Cooma Cairn Ranger Station we have rehabilitated the house that we have to the back which is the ranger station – we divided the area in two because we are planning to have patrols in the area. We have males and females so we did a division; they can place beds, mattresses and we rehabilitated with some amenities such as a kitchenette, stove, and we will also have the installation of the solar system so that will enhance the use of this area. We didn’t have any restroom facilities so the project went ahead and we have to the back a shower for the staff to bathe as well as restroom.”

The project has also allowed for the rehabilitation of the ranger quarters at the entrance of the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. In addition, they have also rehabilitated rest room facilities for visitors, as well as the Forest Department’s Office in San Ignacio.

Yanira Pott

“All of these three important rehabilitations here at the Mountain Pine Ridge have been made to enhance our management effectiveness. And also to meet the current new projects that are being done at the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest reserve. The forest department has also made other rehabilitation projects; we have the rehabilitation of the San Ignacio Forest Office – that is a very key office; it is a central location for the management of not only the Chiquibul Complex but also for the Vaca Forest Reserve.”

It’s big investment and a lot of work is going into the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. And Minister of Sustainable Development Orlando Habet says that in order to maintain these facilities and support the enhancement of this site, they will be implementing a fee system at the gate.

Orlando Habet

“The Pine Ridge gate is an important area because that is where we will be able to monitor and have an account of the number of persons who come in to visit and to also stop the illegal entry because many times we have people who would come in to do illegal activities including hunting. So, that will give us a presence but additionally part of the reason for the gate, because of all the amenities and all the facilities that we have for the enjoyment of the public and our tourist but it will need maintenance and so we will have to put a fee system in place where people will have to pay a small fee as a contribution to the management of the entire system.”

Deputy Chief Forest Officer John Pinelo Junior says that these upgrades will be complemented with a second round of rehabilitative works under phase two of the project which will see more than three million dollars invested across the priority areas defined in the Selva Maya project. And more measures will be implemented for the public to help maintain the integrity of the sites inside the reserve.

John Pinelo Jr., Deputy Forest Officer, Forest Department

“That money will be used to continue the expansion that we are doing here. The tower that you are seeing behind us will probably be renovated in phase two; we will try and expand this building a bit more so that we have more room for more people. We are in the process of working with the FCD to assist us with the monitoring so they will have a presence here. The second part for me also we are looking to see if we can build a headquarters for the office for the forest department. We are in a really old building and so hopefully that can materialize. We are also working to do a lot of renovations – so those are things we will use the money for; building our capacity; building our infrastructure so that our staff can be comfortable wherever they are working.  The development of tourism in the Mountain Pine Ridge – at Rio On; Rio Frio; at the gate here. So we need more presence from the department as a regulatory body to ensure that everyone is safe and they are following the rules; no fires; and if you bring garbage in they will take it out and that will be something that we will strictly enforce in the mountain pine ridge. We are also discussing the possibility of bringing in containers with liquid that you take out back – we won’t allow plastic bottles; plastic bags because some of those are things that build up as garbage. So, we want to try and get in line with the single use plastic ban.”

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

As part of the tourism development plan in the area, concession licenses will be offered to vendors to provide tourism goods and services in the tourist sites in the Mountain Pine Ridge.

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