After decades of back and forth, the community of Crooked Tree may soon be able to get back to the kinds of fishing and other livelihood activities they used to enjoy. News Five’s Andrea Polanco visited the Wildlife Sanctuary to find out more.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
This body of picturesque and serene water greets you when you enter Crooked Tree Village. This lagoon is a key part of the thirty thousand plus acres that makes up the Wildlife Sanctuary. The protected area of natural wetlands is a safe habitat for some three hundred or more migratory and resident birds, and a host of other wildlife that call Crooked Tree home. And for the one thousand five hundred people who live here – this sanctuary is their lifeline, too.
Verna Gillett Samuels, Resident & Manager of the Bird’s Eye View Lodge
“He said that they used to go fishing without any line or any net or anything and they would just paddle a dory under a branch that hangs over the water and they would just shake the branch and enough fish would just jump into their canoes. So that is the way it was in my grandfather’s days.”
The good old days – as remembered in Crooked Tree Village – a time when residents would freely fish and use the resources. But fast forward to the 1980s when the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was established to manage and protect the vulnerable species. It has a level one protected status which means, by law, residents can’t extract resources from this site. The Belize Audubon Society is one of the co-managers of this wildlife sanctuary.
Amanda Burgos-Acosta, Executive Director, Belize Audubon Society
“A wildlife sanctuary one doesn’t allow for traditional usage; that creates a whole series of complications mainly because Crooked Tree is used for fishing and a degree of logging. And so because of that, everything is deemed by law to actually be illegal.”
The people of Crooked Tree have protested against the Belize Audubon Society because for the longest time they have felt that these resources that they once enjoyed have been locked off from them in the name of conservation.
Steve Perriott, Resident [File: November 16
“We, the villagers of Crooked Tree, for years have just been sitting back and laws have been made that affect us and we have been abiding by these laws the best that we can. A few days ago, a gentleman from Audubon, who is a Bird person, took away posts from this villager who was cutting twenty posts of dead logwood to sell. Now Audubon has no business dealing with posts.”
…that was in 2012 and now, the government and its partners want to bring economic and social benefits to the community. They plan to reclassify the Sanctuary, amending the National Protected Areas Systems Act.
“The re-designation that is being sought is
to consider the protected area a wildlife sanctuary two and what that would do is that it would allow for traditional usage, meaning fishing and logging that has always occurred since – forever, basically, and it predates the designation in the eighties.”
James Dawson, Resident, Crooked Tree Village
“They tried to stop us from using the water to fish that the people live off; they stop us from cutting the post that we need to fence our farm with. We use the dry log wood to fence our farm not the green logwood
So we weren’t destroying the place. I understand you have to manage it properly but when they come in and try to stop us that is something else because that is what we live off of. We live off this village.”
James Dawson has lived all his life in Crooked Tree. He has been one of the enduring voices championing the use of these resources.
“A lot us – the resource from this village helps us – maybe one out of the family can go and work outside and the rest of them have to find something home. And so the resource from the village definitely give I would say about seventy percent of our livelihood – living.”
Since 2005 there was talk of how to protect these resources but also allow development. In 2013 the government and its partner agencies began to make serious moves to rethink the way these protected sites are used. While the matter is yet to go before cabinet, a lot of ground work has been done.
Dr. Kenrick Williams, C.E.O., Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change & Disaster Risk Management
“We now have the institutional framework in the form of the NBIO that can now champion those critical next steps and I think that is what has been missing over the last couple years. And so now we are looking at putting in that framework and NBIO is looking at speaking with our stakeholders; speaking with the communities; consulting and revising the legislation that would be required therefore to institutionalize now the opportunities for these communities to maximize social and economic benefits from protected areas that they traditionally and historically have lived on, have depended on but by nature of the law have not been able to maximize access and benefits.”
And while the re-designation of this site is set to benefit traditional users – it can also open up more opportunities for tourism related activities.
Verna Gillett Samuels
“It has contributed a lot because due to the fact that it was protected for a while and the birds were protected for a long while that attracts a lot of tourists to the community; they would come over and over to see the birds because they are always fascinated that brought other business and we say we spread the blessing because we buy the products from the local people like the fish and if they grow something we try to buy from them to make a product that makes everybody. Hunting birds – I don’t think we are going to change from that because people respect the birds and don’t shoot them we have changed out of that lifestyle completely. A lot of those fishermen the outlet for them is right here so the busier we are the more fish we buy from them and the happier they are.”
Hannah St. Luce Martinez, Director, National Biodiversity Office
“There must be the frameworks and the governance and accountability features that must be in place to ensure that when there is resource use there is that accounting that what is being extracted and also the ecological assessments on what are the impacts of those traditional uses on the species. And so we must always ensure that even while we provide those socio-economic benefits that the ecological functions, the species functions of those sites are maintained and uncompromised.”
So, to do that the government, the N.G.O. partner and the people of Crooked Tree must come up with a management plan that provides for the use of permits and other regulatory measures to guide the use of the Wildlife Sanctuary’s resources to balance conservation efforts with the community’s needs.
“So the idea of coming up with a sustainable use plan only makes sense once it is properly designated because if it is not technically everything is deemed as illegal, per the law. A sustainable use plan would have some science base line so you would look at whether the species that are composed that they fish and what are some of the best practices that can be used in that area. If we fish – how will we fish? How will we ensure there are zonations and regulations of how to sustain that form of livelihood?”
Hannah St. Luce Martinez
“It comes about at very crucial time; economically we are challenged; socially we are challenged. And so implementing and achieving these recommendations is key and what is considered a priority in the ministry. So it is a permit that will resemble any sustainable harvesting permit and it will be in line with sustainable fishing and sustainable principles and guidelines which are utilized both nationally and globally. So, it is not a free for all and so it will be something where there will be a system in place to monitor the extraction to ensure that the population themselves do not get over exploited and to ensure that those vulnerable species, for which those sites were established , remain un-impacted by whatever sustainable activity might be.”